Ob­struc­tion­ist Democrats

Los Angeles Times - - Opinion -

Ex­pec­ta­tions were low go­ing in to Congress’ brief pre­elec­tion ses­sion, and on Tues­day, Congress lived down to them in high style: Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate blocked a de­fense spend­ing bill con­tain­ing amend­ments that would have given un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants brought to the U.S. as chil­dren a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship (the DREAM Act) and re­pealed the mil­i­tary’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” pol­icy on gay ser­vice mem­bers. Yet even as the fond­est hopes of pro­gres­sives were go­ing down in flames, a bi­par­ti­san group of sen­a­tors rose to pro­mote an ini­tia­tive long cher­ished by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

Sens. Jeff Binga­man (D-N.M.) and Sam Brown­back (R-Kan.) in­tro­duced a bill that would im­pose for the first time a na­tional re­new­able en­ergy stan­dard: By 2021, the nation’s util­i­ties would have to get 15% of their power from re­new­able sources such as the sun and wind. GOP Sens. Su­san Collins of Maine and John En­sign of Ne­vada are listed as cospon­sors; what’s more, fel­low Repub­li­cans Charles E. Grass­ley of Iowa and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine have backed re­new­able stan­dards in the past. Could the wall of Repub­li­can op­po­si­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal mea­sures be crack­ing, and might Congress make some progress on clean en­ergy in 2010? We hope so, but we’re not hold­ing our breath. Be­cause this time, it’s Democrats who are stand­ing in the way.

Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu, the al­leged Demo­crat from Louisiana, was quick to an­nounce that she couldn’t sup­port the bill un­less the mora­to­rium on off­shore oil drilling were lifted. We can un­der­stand the pres­sure Lan­drieu must be feel­ing from con­stituents whose oil in­dus­try jobs are un­der threat, but that’s no ex­cuse for hold­ing hostage a clean-en­ergy bill that has noth­ing to do with drilling. Other Democrats whose sup­port is con­sid­ered doubt­ful in­clude Sens. Evan Bayh of In­di­ana, Blanche Lin­coln of Arkansas and Ben Nel­son of Ne­braska, and there are prob­a­bly more.

Frankly, the Binga­man stan­dard is so weak that some en­vi­ron­men­tal groups have been de­bat­ing whether to bother back­ing it. The 15% floor is a bit mis­lead­ing — util­i­ties re­ally have to get only 11% of their power from re­new­able sources, as long as they get the re­main­ing 4% via en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ments. Be­cause 29 states al­ready have re­new­able en­ergy stan­dards or non­bind­ing goals, most of them tougher than the pro­posed fed­eral rules, it’s not clear whether the coun­try would end up with much more re­new­able power un­der the bill than it would with­out it. But a fed­eral stan­dard would send a very im­por­tant sig­nal to power in­vestors and de­vel­op­ers. Maybe more im­por­tant, it would set a foun­da­tion that could be built on in the fu­ture.

Now if only some­thing could be done about ob­struc­tion­ist Democrats stand­ing in the way of pro­gres­sive Repub­li­can re­form­ers.

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