White House: Immigration Is 'Important' And Energy Is 'Critical,' But Reid 'Sets The Agenda'

Posted by Wonk Room Tue, 27 Apr 2010 15:42:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

Although both immigration and climate reform are top priorities for the Obama administration, White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes said, it is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who “sets the agenda.” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd questioned Barnes Monday morning over the conflict between Reid and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that derailed the expected unveiling of comprehensive climate legislation Monday. Barnes said that energy reform – what President Obama has called one of his “foundational priorities” – is “critical to this country,” while immigration reform is “important.” However, she repeatedly indicated that the responsibility for moving forward lies with Reid:
MELODY BARNES: What the president and administration want is to work with Congress, Republicans and Democrats in Congress to address these big issues. The Senate Majority Leader will make a decision how to go forward. Immigration reform is important. We also know that comprehensive energy reform is critical to this country. We have to get away from reliance on foreign oil. We know we can create clean energy jobs. So both of these are top priorities for this president. We’re going to be working with the Senate.

CHUCK TODD: Can either be signed this year?

BARNES: We’re hoping to move forward with the majority leader as he sets the agenda.

Watch it:

Reid’s staff had leaked to reporters that the majority leader wanted the Senate to consider an immigration bill before climate legislation, a statement that made little sense other than a response to local political pressures. As Graham, who has been the lead Republican on both issues, voiced his displeasure, it seems neither Reid nor the White House reached out to quell his anger. Graham and Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) American Power Act is ready to be unveiled for direct floor consideration, but immigration reform requires “significant committee work that has not yet begun”—as Reid said. President Obama has been keeping his pledge to immigration reform advocates to raise the issue with Republicans like Sen. Scott Brown (D-MA) to get on board with Graham and Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) immigration effort, but the two bills aren’t on the same timetable.

In addition to the fealty of most Republicans to killer fossil industries, Democrats have competing camps on the best pathway to energy action, with senators like Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pushing for alternate strategies to President Obama’s comprehensive climate reform. Reid has waffled on whether he would be willing to risk conflict with Democratic committee chairs by taking climate reform straight to the floor. This potential conflict with senators like agriculture chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and finance chair Max Baucus (D-MT) would likely have to be mediated by the President, even as Graham would have the responsibility of locking down Republican votes other than himself.


TODD: I understand that there’s this idea that everybody here wants to walk and chew gum at the same time but we will know Washington sort of can handle one big issue at a time. Financial reform at some point feels like it’s going to wrap interrupt next couple weeks. It sounds like energy, immigration, can you really expect this town to handle both at the same time or is there going to have to be one over the other?

BARNES: When we walked in the door we inherited big problems. I think what this president has shown is he can handle a number of challenges at the same time.

TODD: Maybe he can but Congress is a different story. We know they have their priorities. I guess what I’m asking, would the White House accept immigration going before energy?

BARNES: What the president and administration want is to work with Congress, Republicans and Democrats in Congress to address these big issues. The Senate Majority Leader will make a decision how to go forward. immigration reform is important. We also know that comprehensive energy reform is critical to this country. We have to get away from reliance on foreign oil. We know we can create clean energy jobs. So both of these are top priorities for this president. We’re going to be working with the Senate.

TODD: Can either be signed this year?

BARNES: We’re hoping to move forward with the majority leader as he sets the agenda.

TODD: If he’s picking immigration, he’s setting the agenda.

BARNES: He’s the majority leader.

Whisper Campaign Derails Climate Bill Rollout

Posted by Wonk Room Mon, 26 Apr 2010 15:21:00 GMT

Lindsey GrahamThe unveiling of green economy legislation by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Monday has been indefinitely postponed, following a whisper campaign that Senate leadership preferred tackling immigration reform instead. Below is the timeline of the last four days, in which political reporters quote anonymous “Democratic officials” and “Senate Democratic aides” to promote the rumor:

Wednesday, April 21: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) meet. Based entirely on comments from anonymous “Senate Democratic aides,” Roll Call’s John Stanton claims that “Democratic leaders are pushing ahead with plans to move comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year — even if it means punting on energy legislation until next Congress.” The Hill’s Ben Geman cites “a Democratic aide” to claim Pelosi said she is “fine” with “the Senate taking up immigration reform before climate change legislation.” The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler cites “three Democratic officials” to claim “both leaders said they would put immigration ahead of energy on their priority list.”

Thursday, April 22, Earth Day: The Associated Press’s Laurie Kellerman and Matthew Day cite “two Democratic officials” to repeat the immigration-first rumor.

Pelosi holds a press conference, and is asked about the rumor. Pelosi responds that “energy security and addressing the climate crisis is the flagship issue of my speakership,” notes that the House has “already passed our energy bill,” and “if the Senate is ready with an immigration bill, we don’t want anybody holding it up for any reason, and we would be pleased to welcome it to the House.” Fox News’ Chad Pergram interprets her remarks to claim “Pelosi Okay On Delaying Climate Bill in Lieu of Immigration.”

Graham tells reporters that “If immigration comes up then that’s the ultimate CYA politics,” and “It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate” to jump to immigration reform legislation, because “We haven’t done anything to prepare the body or the country for immigration” and “business and labor are not together on a temporary worker bill.”

In a story by Politico’s Marin Cogan about Graham’s comments, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) “declined to say which bill she’d prefer be taken up first.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) tells the Christian Science Monitor’s Linda Feldmann, “I don’t know that anybody made a determination in the discussions I have had with leadership that immigration is more important than energy,” and agrees with Graham’s assessment, “I am not sure the Senate can move an immigration bill.”

Friday, April 23: A “Democratic aide” tells Politico’s Kasie Hunt: “Immigration is gaining steam; climate change may suffer.”

“I think these are separate issues on separate legislative tracks,’’ Lieberman says in a conference call. “One will not adversely affect the other.” Hartford Courant’s Daniela Altimari reports “Lieberman said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured him that he will bring the climate and energy bill to the floor, likely in late May or early June, barring any obstacles.”

Saturday, April 24: Graham sends a letter to business, religious and conservation leaders that “I will be unable to move forward on energy independence legislation at this time” because of “what appears to be a decision by the Obama Administration and Senate Democratic leadership to move immigration instead of energy,” unless “their plan substantially changes this weekend.”

Reid, the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin writes, “declined to assure Graham on Saturday that he would put immigration behind energy in the legislative lineup,” responding in a statement instead: “I will not allow him to play one issue off of another, and neither will the American people.” The Hill’s Eric Zimmerman interprets Reid’s statement to claim he “said today that Democrats might push climate legislation before immigration reform.” Reid’s statement blames Republicans, specifically “the tremendous pressure he is under from members of his own party not to work with us on either measure.”

The White House “also declined to indicate whether it would address Graham’s concerns,” issuing a statement by climate advisor Carol Browner saying, “We believe the only way to make progress on these priorities is to continue working as we have thus far in a bipartisan manner to build more support for both comprehensive energy independence and immigration reform legislation.” Talking Points Memo’s Christina Bellantoni notes Browner says about climate reform, “We’re determined to see it happen this year.”

In the evening, Kerry releases a statement that “regrettably external issues have arisen that force us to postpone only temporarily” the Monday unveiling because Graham “feels immigration politics have gotten in the way and for now prevent him from being engaged in the way he intended.” “Joe and I will continue to work together and are hopeful that Lindsey will rejoin us once the politics of immigration are resolved.”

In summary: although Lieberman and Hoyer attempted to debunk the rumor, Senate leadership and the White House refused to address the rumor of timing spread by anonymous Democratic staffers and officials. Graham, who has also been the lead Republican working on immigration with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), announced Saturday he would not participate in a bill rollout with its fate on the Senate calendar placed in competition with unwritten immigration legislation.

Lugar And Voinovich Float Alternative to Comprehensive Climate Reform 1

Posted by Wonk Room Thu, 22 Apr 2010 15:38:00 GMT

Lugar-VoinovichSenators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham are working with the White House, environmentalists, and industry to craft comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation, which they plan to unveil on Monday. But Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), both of whom have admitted the threat of global warming, today announced “a narrower competing bill” that resembles the weak legislation passed out of the Senate energy committee last year:

George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana are developing an energy-only bill that would mandate new renewable and nuclear power production without imposing cuts on carbon emissions.

Lugar first unveiled this plan on March 30, which looks like something from the Carter era. This approach, which has also been floated by energy committee members Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK), has been described by Graham as “half-assed.” Voinovich believes that subsidy-based legislation that fails to reduce global warming pollution is more “doable” than comprehensive reform that pays its own way by putting a price on carbon pollution:
I’d like to get something done. But I’m not sure it would meet the standards of the environmental groups or what Sen. Kerry would like to get done. I’d like to do the doable — move it down the field while I can.

More problematically, Voinovich also announced today that climate legislation “must include a comprehensive preemption provision that goes well beyond language included in previous climate bills” to get his support, a poison-pill stance that would derail the progress made by states across the nation to build a green economy.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have been jockeying for attention with a bill that addresses the other half of energy reform, a climate-only package with weak targets known as the CLEAR Act.

These senators are participating in a complex dance – if President Obama and the public throw their weight behind real action, then these senators can take credit when elements of their bills appear in the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman legislation. However, if momentum stalls under the weight of polluter lobbying and Beltway indifference to the climate crisis, they can instead say they offered a “pragmatic” alternative.

Time to Act? Next Steps for a Climate Bill - A Planet Forward Conversation

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 20 Apr 2010 23:00:00 GMT

Be at GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs for an insider’s guide to America’s next great legislative challenge. We’ll have a one-on-one discussion with top Obama official, Lisa Jackson, and a panel discussion with representatives from media, business and policy to get a picture of what the next stages of the climate debate will be. Will the upcoming Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill get us on the right path? Or will it happen in the scientific or business sectors? Find out. And find out who really wins and loses when the stakes are this high?

Joining SMPA Director and Planet Forward Host Frank Sesno will be Lisa Jackson (US EPA), Ana Unruh-Cohen (House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming), Andrew Revkin (New York Times), Jim Connaughton (Constellation Energy Group), Dr. Dan Lashof (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Kate Sheppard (Mother Jones). We’ll also feature some of the best videos recently submitted to PlanetForward.org…including films from GW’s very own Planet Forward class!

A Co-presentation of GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs, The George Washington University School of Business and GW’s Environmental Studies program.


Jack Morton Auditorium
School of Media and Public Affairs
805 21st Street NW
Washington, DC 20052

Drilling For Votes: Senators Stake Out Climate And Energy Stances 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Sat, 27 Mar 2010 15:34:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

Senators are beginning to seriously tackle climate and clean energy reform, responding to the leadership of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) with letters staking out positions and making specific demands. Here’s an overview of these letters:

The Udall Group: Twenty-two Senators Say Senate Should ‘Consider’ Climate Legislation ‘This Year’.
Led by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), a moderate bloc of twenty-two Democratic senators “believe the United States should consider bipartisan and comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this year with a renewed focus on jobs and reduced dependence on foreign oil.” Critically, eleven of the signatories last year signed on to a Republican filibuster threat of green economy legislation, and seven are members of Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D-IN) Moderate Democrats Working Group . Bayh himself did not sign Udall’s letter.

Download the Udall Group letter. Signatories: Begich (D-AK), Bennet (D-CO), Brown (D-OH), Burris (D-IL), Cantwell (D-WA), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Franken (D-MN), Hagan (D-NC), Harkin (D-IA), Kaufman (D-DE), Klobuchar (D-MN), Merkley (D-OR), Murray (D-WA), Shaheen (D-NH), Specter (D-PA), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-NM), Udall (D-CO), Warner (D-VA), and Wyden (D-OR).

The Nuke Group: A Bipartisan Group Of Eleven Senators Demand A Nuclear Energy Summit.
Five Democrats and six Republicans, from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), propose the White House hold a “nuclear energy summit” on the “development of a 50-year strategy” within “the next 3-4 months,” because “safe nuclear power must play an increasingly important role in meeting our rising energy demand and ensuring cleaner air.” They want Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA Adminstrator Lisa Jackson, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, and Bill Gates to attend.

Download the Nuke Group letter. Signatories: Carper (D-DE), Landrieu (D-LA), Klobuchar (D-MN), Webb (D-VA), Warner (D-VA), Voinovich (R-OH), Crapo (R-ID), Vitter (R-LA), Sessions (R-AL), Alexander (R-TN) and Inhofe (R-OK).

Coastal State Senators: Don’t Drill On Me.
In a letter to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, ten Democratic senators from coastal states – Florida, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, Oregon, and Ted Kaufman of Delaware – write that “our states are literally the front lines when it comes to the severe impacts we’ll see from sea level rise and stronger storms,” and express their concerns that “some interests are aggressively pursuing an effort to open the nation’s coasts and oceans for unfettered access to oil and gas drilling.” They reject “the concept of sharing revenue with states,” as “funds that belong to the American people should be shared equally and prioritized to reduce the federal deficit and to protect our oceans and coasts that provide this resource.” They call for use-it-or-lose-it language on oil leases. Increased offshore drilling won’t reduce the cost of gas, they recognize, saying “the only way for us to lower oil prices is to pursue and aggressive policy of energy efficiency and conservation.”

Download the Coastal Senators letter. Signatories: Nelson (D-FL), Menendez (D-NJ), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Reed (D-RI), Whitehouse (D-RI), Cardin (D-MD), Mikulski (D-MD), Merkley (D-OR), Wyden (D-OR), and Kaufman (D-DE).

Feinstein Drills Into Policy Details.
In a letter to Kerry, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) touches on several specific policy details for his “bipartisan legislation to address the pressing problem of climate change.” She wants heavy industry to be exempted from the initial cap, opposes pre-emption of California’s tailpipe emissions standards, supports the Waxman-Markey formula for electric utility permit giveaways, wants new offshore drilling to require state-level legislation, thanks Kerry for including the Snowe-Feinstein market oversight language, and wants the oil carbon fee to be indexed to an emissions target rather than a carbon market. Significantly, Feinstein recommends that “the legislation’s spending authorizations expire no later than ten years after enactment”—a major change from the forty-year permit allocation formulas in previous legislation.

Download Feinstein’s letter.

Begich: ‘Alaska Is Ground Zero For Climate Change,’ So Let’s Drill It.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) penned a letter saying “Alaska is ground zero for climate change. We are feeling its near-term effects far more than the residents of any other state, including retreating sea ice, rapidly eroding shorelines, thawing permafrost, ocean acidification, and changing fish and wildlife migration patterns.” Despite this, Begich calls for “greater emphasis and expanded incentives for natural gas” and “sharing in revenue from oil and gas development” from federal waters off the Arctic coast. Citing the “billions of dollars” of “damage to Alaska public infrastructure alone due to climate change,” Begich also requests “a higher priority for domestic rather than international adaptation funding” and an increased investment in Arctic research.

However, Begich does not call for stronger emissions reduction targets, stronger renewable or efficiency standards, stronger investments in green technologies, or anything that would allow the United States to lead an international agreement to halt greenhouse gas pollution.

Download Begich’s letter.

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman have been holding a marathon of meetings. On Thursday they met with representatives of oil majors Shell, BP America, and ConocoPhillips, yet again with the pollution lobbyists of the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, and also with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and later with members of the electric utility trade group Edison Electric Institute.

None of these senators’ letters call for stronger pollution reductions, stronger renewable or efficiency standards, stronger scientific review, stronger regulation of hydraulic fracturing, stronger action on coal ash waste, stronger mercury rules, an end to mountaintop removal, or greater auctions of pollution permits.

Sen. Levin Outlines Demands In "Dear John" Letter On Climate

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 15 Mar 2010 12:08:00 GMT

In a letter to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) outlined his policy priorities for the comprehensive climate legislation Sen. Kerry is authoring. Levin’s letter highlights “some of the points I made at the March 2 meeting on climate legislation” :

  • Eliminate California waiver for automotive emissions
  • Pre-empt EPA from Clean Air Act regulation of stationary sources
  • A “realistic and firm” price collar
  • A “delay of at least 10 years in regulation of industrial sources”
  • “Sufficient” allowances for industrial sources
  • Trade provisions “to assure a level playing field”
  • A “100% emissions-based distribution formula” for permits to electricity generation

Although Levin’s language is unclear, the “delay of at least 10 years in regulation of industrial sources” appears to refer to individual site performance standards, not a decade-long delay in including industrial polluters under a market-based cap.

Giving allowances away to polluters for free based on their historic emissions, or “grandfathering,” says Environment America, “rewards owners of highly polluting facilities and discourages innovation.” Europe’s grandfathered cap-and-trade system generated $100 billion in windfall profits before they moved to an auctioned-credit system.

The liberal organization MoveOn is strongly opposed to pre-emption of the Clean Air Act in climate legislation.

Full text of the letter below:

March 5, 2010

The Honorable John Kerry
Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear John:

I am writing to reiterate some of the points I made at the March 2 meeting on climate legislation:

  • A binding national standard for greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources is needed, with clear pre-emption of states adopting a different standard. The rules for greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources should be set by Congress, superseding EPA’s existing statutory authority under the Clean Air Act.
  • A realistic and firm “price collar” is needed to ensure that businesses and consumers do not face excessive costs and to provide more certainty for businesses to invest in the new clean energy economy.
  • A delay of at least 10 years in regulation of industrial sources is needed, with a further delay provided for if important trade provisions to assure a level playing field are not included and fully implemented. Sufficient allowances for industrial sources are needed to cover both direct and indirect emissions. This is critical for ensuring that cost disparities relative to greenhouse gas controls do not erode our international competitiveness.
  • Any approach for reducing greenhouse gas emissions needs to take into account the differences in the source of electricity generation across the country, in order to avoid regional disparities. An allocation formula based 50 percent on emissions and 50 percent on sales would result in some states bearing an unfair and disproportionate share of the costs. As can be seen in the attached table, a 50-50 allocation would result in a wide disparity in the extent to which emission allowance needs are met, with a difference across states of 47%. A 100% emissions-based distribution formula is a more equitable approach (but there still is a difference across states of 22%). An adequate total number of allowances to the electricity sector is also needed to ensure a realistic and smooth transition to lower carbon-intensive electricity production.



Carl Levin

Download the letter.