Are Voters Eager to Push Policies on Energy and Climate Change? Yes and No

CongressDaily recently offered a report highlighting a distinction that probably warrants passing on.

It seems that, when asked, two-thirds of Americans say it is "very important" for Congress to pass legislation on energy policy. Sounds about right, right? But, only one-third of Americans said the same about climate change.

So it seems a large portion of the electorate puts these two areas of public policy in two different categories (likely because some don’t believe climate change is a valid concern). Shedding some light on the matter is that there is largely a partisan divide here. According to the poll, climate change showed the widest gap between Republicans and Democrats of all the issues that were asked about (including prioritization of job creation, immigration and regulating financial markets). Just 17% of Republicans said it was important to act on climate change, while 47% of Democrats and 29% of independents thought it was.

Is this surprising, or on par with what you’d expect?

Not All Will Like These Luntz Words

At the Indiana Chamber’s "An Evening With Frank Luntz" on February 16, maybe we will hear the pollster/communicator talk about climate change. According to CQ Politics, Luntz did just that recently.

Not that we weren’t already in for an interesting evening (following the annual Legislative Reception), but this could add a little intrigue.

Luntz’ forte is formulating terminology that can redefine political policy debates. During the Bush administration, he wrote a memo suggesting that Republicans could dampen public concern about global warming by stating — over and over — that the environmentalists’ proposals were loaded with "scientific uncertainty" and would impose an "unfair economic burden" on the nation. By embracing the Luntz approach, climate change skeptics successfully sowed seeds of doubt on climate change and delayed federal action.

But that was then. Now Luntz is applying his "language guidance" talents to help the greens sell their proposals to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Based on polling conducted at the end of 2009, Luntz said that the vast majority of Americans believe that global warming is real and that mankind is contributing to the problem.

According to Luntz, Americans tend to dismiss the scare tactics that environmentalists and global warming skeptics use to shape public opinion. "If you really want to scare Americans, it’s not about glaciers that are melting or the struggle of the polar bear," he said. "What scares Americans is the idea that this great technological industry will be developed in China or India rather than here in America."

Luntz’ report was released at a time when the environmental community is waking up to the reality that the ambitious, economywide climate change bills passed last year by the House and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are dead.

As the environmentalists and pro-legislation businesses decide their next steps, they’re likely to keep Luntz’ advice in mind. "The American people don’t accept the status quo," he said. "The American people not only think that we can do better as a country, they want us to do better as a country. And they don’t care whether it’s Republicans or Democrats who are offering it — they expect more."

Will It Be Politics Over Policy in Congress?

In the final years of the Bush administration, Washington was noted for its lack of substantive action on Capitol Hill. In 2009, many were wishing for a switch back to the previous inaction. In 2010, it’s "are we going to get anything done because we have to get re-elected and we don’t want to make anyone mad?"

Excerpts from a CongressDaily analysis of what’s to come:

House and Senate Democrats plan a 2010 agenda aimed at leaving the second half of the 111th Congress as firmly identified in the public’s mind with economic measures as 2009 was with healthcare reform. In 2010, virtually every bill will be sold as a jobs bill.

That agenda suggests 2010’s legislative output will be far leaner than last year’s, and could once again bode badly for key measures that were shoved aside in the push to pass healthcare legislation.

And if Massachusetts state GOP Sen. Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley, the state’s Democratic attorney general, in a special election today to give Senate Republicans a 41st vote, virtually every key 2010 initiative, including health care, will be endangered in the Senate. Democrats last year regularly needed 60 votes to move legislation, and Republicans might be even less cooperative in an election year.

Despite a continued push by backers, climate change legislation, which the House has passed, and an overhaul of immigration law appear to face long odds of passage, according to congressional aides and lawmakers.

"It is going to be a very hard year to do what we have to do to meet the needs of the American people and to maintain the fiscal soundness. And that requires some very tough decisions," House Speaker Pelosi has warned.

Pelosi, echoed by other top House Democrats, said she is determined this year to reduce the deficit, which the CBO says hit $1.4 trillion at the end of FY09 and is projected to hit $1.5 trillion for FY10.

But how to pair these seemingly conflicting goals — passing multi-billion-dollar, job-creating packages with cutting spending and reducing the deficit — must await, in part, the president’s budget, set for release in early February.

Many observers speculate Senate Majority Leader Reid will push an energy bill aimed a creating green jobs and improving energy infrastructure without a cap-and-trade provision that Republicans argue amounts to a major energy tax. In a statement last week, a Reid spokeswoman mentioned "clean energy legislation," financial regulatory reform and immigration among priorities for the first half of the year.

Grabbing Some More of Your Dollars

While the majority of the attention is on health care reform, climate change and the like, other "routine" business continues to take place in Washington. On the agenda this week, as early as later today, is consideration on the Senate floor of a $122 million, fiscal year 2010 Transportation/Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill.

Don’t confuse this with the legislation authorizing highway funding that expires on September 30. The consensus there is that an extension, as long as 18 months, will be enacted so that little challenge can be put off until 2011.

On the transportation bill, there have been more than 50 amendments filed. Most come from Arizona’s John McCain; you remember him from that 2008 presidential election thing. Among the items McCain wants to remove from the bill:

  • $195,000 for renovation of the Emmett Till Memorial Complex in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi
  • $500,000 to construct a beach park promenade in Pascagoula, Mississippi
  • $500,000 requested by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to provide a credit counseling service in Las Vegas

I’ll vote with McCain on this one. But then this whole earmark argument has been heard before — and it still seems to be business as usual.

Another worthy amendment would prevent lawmakers from congratulating themselves by using stimulus funds to purchase signage for such projects in their communities. The only stimulus that would provide is to the legislator’s re-election efforts. 

Rogers Staying in Energy Game for Next Five Years

Duke Energy’s Jim Rogers has spent 20-plus years as a CEO in the energy industry (starting with PSI Energy in Plainfield in 1988). And despite his wife’s reaction of "what the heck were you thinking?," he acknowledged today at the Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Conference on Energy Management that he’s signed up for five more years.

"I love this industry," he told the conference attendees. And while he has seen many changes in his career, he adds, "The next five years are going to be more transformative for our industry than the last 20 have been."

Rogers shared 10 facts about the current and future energy outlook before answering numerous questions. Among his revelations:

  • By 2050, Duke will have to retire or replace virtually every power plant it is operating today
  • The company is the third largest generator of both coal and nuclear energy. It is currently building new coal and natural gas facilities, has two nuclear proposals being reviewed and is also active in various areas of renewables
  • While there will always be skeptics, he says the majority of scientists have spoken in favor of climate change and that he is a believer

Rogers thinks that the cap and trade legislation that passed the House earlier in the summer "will be improved by the Senate to minimize the cost impact to consumers. The transition, however, is not going to be free, not going to be easy and not going to be quick. It will take decades to make the transition, but we have to get to work on it now. Our mission has changed. We have to modernize and decarbonize our fleet to help our communities become the most energy efficient in the world."

Rogers’ take on three other issues:

  • China: "They’re moving fast. The reality is that China gets it. They’re the number one producer of solar panels; number one producer of wind turbines. They have 14 nuclear plants under construction. That’s why we’re partnering with them. We want to move at China time."
  • Industry employment: "Real jobs are going to be created if we rebuild the nuclear industry in the United States. There are no such things as green jobs; every job is a green job. It’s all about improving productivity and becoming more efficient. Let’s quit trying to draw lines."
  • Smart grid and energy efficiency: "I believe this will turn out to be the greatest enabler, and I can’t even envision today what it will enable." He explains that while Duke and other companies are currently focused on generation of power to the meter, the future includes writing software for specific energy uses. "Our energy efficiency will be driven by technology. The same way you throw the switch today and the lights come on, you will throw the switch and it will optimize your use of energy. The boundaries of our business are being fundamentally redrawn."

South Bend the Site for Climate Change Forum

Congress returns to work on September 8. On that same day, Hoosiers can learn more about climate change and energy legislation being debated in Washington — and how it might impact Hoosier businesses.

The Northwest Indiana Forum and Nucor are sponsoring the Climate Change Forum at the South Bend Marriott. The 90-minute event (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a complimentary lunch included) will tackle, in the organizers’ words: "the global scope of the climate change issue, the impact of greenhouse gases on our local communities, clean energy technology and recycling initiatives."

The goal: a focus on policies that create a sustainable balance between protecting our environment and developing our state’s business sector.

An RSVP is required. Call (866) 731-1929.

“Global Warming” Bill Could be Cooled in Senate

Recently, we broke down the U.S. House vote approving climate change legislation that might be better referred to as a national energy tax. That was step one in a process that the Obama administration is trying to put on the fast track.

Early indications are that the Senate will have a more difficult time than the House in passing HR 2454. California’s Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, is expected to begin hearings on Tuesday. Her goal is to mark up legislation modeled on the House bill (capping greenhouse gas emissions and mandating increased energy from renewable sources) before the August recess.

Other Senate committees — Agriculture, Finance and Foreign Relations — are expected to weigh in with mid-September deadlines.

As was the case in the House, moderates and senators from coal-producing states will be the key votes. The focus is expected to be on about 15 Democrats, including Indiana’s Evan Bayh, who fall into one of those categories.

The U.S. Chamber offers this concise primer on the terms and issues involved in the global warming debate. The battle will continue.

“Climate Change” Bill Passes U.S. House

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 passed the House this evening, 219-212.

Here’s how Indiana’s Congressmen voted (See all votes here):

Carson – Yes
Donnelly – No
Ellsworth – No
Hill – Yes
Visclosky – No

Burton – No
Buyer – No
Pence – No
Souder – No

Hat tip to Hoosier Access for getting votes up promptly.

Getting Some Work in Before Recess

When young students take a daily break from their learning activities, it’s called recess. When members of Congress take scheduled breaks from activities in Washington, the same name applies. There must be a joke in there somewhere.

Anyway, the next recess for Congress is from June 29-July 3. That leaves this week to tackle the ongoing list of weighty issues. What is on the agenda?

  • Climate change legislation is not expected to make it to the House floor despite the wishes of Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman. He says a lack of trust for the "farm community" toward the Environmental Protection Agency is among the roadblocks
  • The House is expected to pass a $680 billion defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2010. Controversy includes the issue of transferring military prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. soil
  • Health care reform debate goes on with the Senate committee amending its 600-page bill and three House committees looking at an 852-page offering (some of this paper could probably be put to better use in the schools)
  • A high-level White House meeting on immigration reform is expected Thursday. Who knows what will emerge from that gathering

I really need some assistance with that "recess" punch line. HELP!

On the Clock in Congress

Congressional leaders are telling both senators and representatives two things — expect to be on the floor for longer periods of time and for more days. The simple reason: so many issues to debate and vote on — and so little time.

The "normal" Tuesday through Thursday vote schedule makes it easier for members to travel back to their districts and (sometimes) homes. It’s good for campaigning and touching base in their districts. If that is the main casualty of spending more time shaping and determining these important laws, so be it.

What’s on the schedule?

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) wants to pass at least two spending bills prior to the July 4 break. Those would be a separate war funding measure and a bill allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products
  • Reid says to expect roll call votes nearly every day in July and early August, leading up to the August recess. Health care legislation, more of the dozen appropriations bills and a defense authorization measure are likely among top items on that agenda
  • In the House, expect more votes in June and July than what took place during the first five months of the year. In 2007, more than 350 votes were cast during that period and all 12 appropriations bills were passed
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) notes that there will also be a closer watch on the clock, with roll call votes lasting closer to the more traditional 15 minutes. The machines have been left open 25 minutes or more recently to give members more time to return to the floor and cast their votes

Health care reform and climate change legislation are only two of the biggest issues Congress has faced in many years. Add in the consideration of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (don’t expect a vote before September) and the challenge grows deeper. It’s a chance for Congress to shine and reverse its negative image. Will it be up to the task?