In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama appealed to Congress for energy legislation. Among the items on his wish list: a clean-energy standard for electricity generation, an energy-efficiency program, clean-energy tax credits, and legal measures to boost domestic oil and gas production.
But with a divided Congress mired in election-year politics, the chances of any energy bills making it to Obama’s desk this year are slim to none, most National Journal Energy and Environment Insiders say.
“The annual Congressional Almanac predicts strong drought conditions through at least November 2012, and that's not due to climate change either!” joked one Insider.
A whopping 81 percent of Insiders said it is unlikely Congress will send any energy legislation to Obama in 2012. Fifty-two percent said the prospects are “very unlikely,” while 29 percent said they are “somewhat unlikely.”
“Enacting legislation requires some level of concert between the House and Senate, and a working relationship between Congress and the president based on solving problems rather than scoring political points,” said one Insider. “Those conditions don’t exist.”
Insiders said that, among other things, Republicans will be reluctant to hand any legislative victories to Obama this year.
The only possibilities, some Insiders said, are an extension of expiring clean-energy tax credits, a modest energy-efficiency bill, or a bill to push ahead the Keystone XL pipeline, which the House and Senate are mulling right now.
House Republicans on Tuesday rolled out a transportation bill that includes a push for expanded oil and gas drilling to fund roads and infrastructure projects. The bill also creates a vehicle for language pushing the approval of Keystone—language proponents of the project still haven’t settled on. Still, the entire package will face a tough crowd in the upper chamber.
A clean-energy standard, which the president has now called for twice, still isn’t likely, Insiders said. Though Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is poised to introduce such a bill soon, its chances of surviving are slim after it leaves committee.
Asked to rank possible energy legislation, 38 percent of Insiders said that energy-efficiency legislation is the most likely to make it into such legislation, while 62 percent said that a clean-energy standard is the least likely.
With such dim prospects, only 2 percent of Insiders said that any energy legislation is “very likely” this year, while 17 percent said it is “somewhat likely.”
The catalyst for any such action, Insiders said, would be a jump in gasoline prices later this year.
“When gasoline prices spike, as they are expected to do this spring/summer, Congress tends to take actions that defy conventional wisdom,” said one Insider.
Still, most Insiders said that even then, the likely result would be political posturing rather than any legislative action ahead of the election.
“Come early spring, the only thing you will hear on the House and Senate floor is the sound of crickets chirping,” said one Insider.
How likely is it that Congress will send any energy legislation to President Obama this year?
- Very Likely 2%
- Somewhat Likely 17%
- Somewhat Unlikely 29%
- Very Unlikely 52%
“Only expiring tax-credit extensions.”
“When gasoline prices spike, as they are expected to do this spring/summer, Congress tends to take actions that defy conventional wisdom. In February 2008, nobody would have believed a Democrat-controlled Congress would allow the [Outer Continental Shelf] moratorium to lapse. The president is going to get a chance to put his money where his mouth is.”
“A relatively modest, near-consensus package on energy efficiency seems pretty likely at this point, and there's still a chance that the president will have to accept something on Keystone as part of the next payroll-tax bill. But a robust energy bill is very unlikely, and there is zero chance of a [Clean Energy Standard].”
“Possibly another Keystone bill.”
“The risk of anti-jobs, anti-consumer legislation on green energy or greenhouse-gas emissions seems past. There is no major driver for legislation. The tremendous economic boom in the oil and gas industry does not need government's help.”
“It seems too big a subject for the R's to compromise on and give the administration a ‘consensus’ victory on.”
“CES will definitely be introduced by Senator Bingaman; it's likely this will get out of committee and may get out of the Senate due to strong industry support. [A clean-energy loans and grants bill] is also likely to move, and maybe some clean-energy manufacturing bills. The House may move on these as well but it's not likely, except maybe in the case of the manufacturing bills, which have extremely strong bipartisan support.”
“This political hot potato will never see the light of day.”
“A supply disruption that leaves U.S. drivers short of gasoline would get a bill passed in a hurry; high prices, not so much.”
“This do-nothing Congress has earned its reputation. Hard to see how energy would be the exception that makes this rule.”
“Enacting legislation requires some level of concert between the House and Senate, and a working relationship between Congress and the president based on solving problems rather than scoring political points. Those conditions don't exist.”
“Depends on what you mean by any because a pipeline safety reauthorization bill went through Congress with little noteworthy partisan debate. That said, the annual Congressional Almanac predicts strong drought conditions through at least November 2012, and that's not due to climate change either!”
“Other than clean-energy tax extenders, which will likely be considered at some point as part of a tax-extenders package, it is extremely unlikely that the House and Senate will do any more than posture on significant energy issues in advance of the November elections. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats appear willing to compromise on any significant energy issues.”
“Only legislation relating to EPA regulation of energy-related sectors like MACT [Maximum Achievable Control Technology] reform for boilers is likely.”
“The Republicans in Congress have no desire to give President Obama any legislative victories this year and can effectively block any legislation a Democratic Senate may try to move.”
“Nothing will happen on energy unless it gets shoved into the payroll extension or debt-ceiling bills. Come early spring, the only thing you will hear on the House and Senate floor is the sound of crickets chirping.”
“Depends on what the definition of 'is' is. On straight energy legislation, very unlikely. But I do think Congress will pass a series of tax extenders, including energy tax items, in the lame-duck session this year.”
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Andrew J. Black, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, Pat Bousliman, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, David Di Martino, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Con Lass, Mindy Lubber, Frank Maisano, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O'Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Thomas Pyle, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the February 1, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.