Weekly Mulch: How Reid’s Energy Bill Undermines Senate Climate Efforts

Senator Harry Reid

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced a limited energy bill that responds to the oil spill and promotes energy efficiency. Reid’s action is a signal that the Senate will not pass climate legislation before November, although Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said that a climate bill could come up in the lame-duck session following the election.

“The Senate’s climate bill is officially dead,” Kate Sheppard writes at Mother Jones. “And given that Democrats will almost certainly hold fewer seats in Congress next year, major action on the climate is unlikely to be revived anytime soon.”

Since 2009, expectations for a bill regulating carbon emissions have steadily declined. After this latest failure in the Senate, the best near-term hope for addressing climate change comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, which still has the power to regulate carbon emissions.

At the Washington Independent, Andrew Restuccia reports that Sen. Reid’s bill will likely hold oil companies more financially accountable for spills by lifting the cap on their liability for economic damages and will nudge homeowners towards energy efficiency.

But, Restuccia writes, a sources tells him that “significantly…the bill might not include a renewable energy standard.” Such a standard would require an increasing percentage of the country’s electricity to come from sources like wind and solar.

The energy bill could create jobs

 

Sen. Reid has often emphasized that an energy bill is also a jobs bill: Innovation in the clean energy sector creates employment opportunities at a time when they’re sorely needed. Dropping the renewable energy standard could also mean diminishing the potential for job creation.

Public News Service reports that in rural areas, a standard could create thousands of jobs.

“The Department of Energy says, if we get to 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind by the year 2030”—one of the less ambitious standards proposed—“it would mean 3,000 to 4,000 new jobs in most of our states,” Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, said. “There’s not a lot of things out there bringing that kind of new economic opportunity to rural America, so it could be a great thing for us.”

The Gulf Coast connection

 

The need for job opportunities extends beyond rural areas. In the Gulf Coast, for instance, even fishermen left idle by the oil spill are hoping the oil industry resumes drilling soon. Their communities need those jobs. As Jerome Ringo, who worked for two decades in the oil industry, writes at The Progressive, “With unemployment still in the double digits across the nation, and the people on the Gulf Coast struggling to survive, we need far more clean energy job growth than what we’re seeing right now.”

That’s not going to happen without a long-term commitment to clean energy from the government, Ringo argues. “Businesses need this signal to know how to invest, and, with this signal, they will move in a direction that creates many more jobs in areas like renewable energy and electric cars for people like me who once worked in oil and gas.”

 

Climate refugees

 

That transition won’t happen overnight, but it’s important to start in that direction as soon as possible. In the United States, the effects of climate change are affecting people—farmers dealing with strange weather, for instance—but the impact is not obvious in the every day lives of Americans.

Not everyone has that luxury, though. LinkTV’s Earth Focus reports on the plight of climate refuges in New Guinea. In a new film, Jennifer Redfearn documents the story of the country’s Carteret Islanders—the first group to organize a community-wide evacuation of their home in the face of climate change. As the sea level rises around their island, storm surges increase and fresh water becomes salty. Carteret Islanders are looking to move to Bougainville, a neighboring island recovering from civil war.

“I’ve heard about you Carterets. You are an easy-going people,” one leader tells them. “Here it is totally different.”

The longer Americans wait to start scaling back our energy use, the more people around the globe will be displaced.

Hydrofracking

 

When moving towards clean energy, however, it is important that leaders in Washington and on the state level watch emerging energy companies closely. For instance, The New York Times reports that Reid’s bill will promote natural gas production. But as natural gas grows more popular as a bridge fuel, communities and legislators are discovering more dangerous environmental impacts from the hydrofracture drilling process that companies use to extract the gas from shale deposits.

Josh Fox’s recent documentary, Gasland, showed that residents across the country in fracking areas have had their drinking water contaminated. The natural gas industry is pushing back hard against the claims his film makes. Truthout reports that “Energy In Depth (EID), an information service created and funded by the oil and gas industry, recently posted ‘Debunking Gasland,’ a point-by-point argument against the Fox’s startling discoveries. EID paints Fox as a ‘purveyor of the avant-garde’ who is guilty of ‘flat-out making stuff up.’”

Fox isn’t the only one to voice concerns about water quality, either. GritTV recently heard from residents in the Delaware River Basin about their concerns. “No water for gas” is their rallying cry.

Water, water, everywhere

Fox is fighting back, but the response to his film shows that the industry is ready to push back against any criticisms of its practices. It has also resisted effects by regulators to require disclose of the chemicals it uses in its extraction process.

But as the Washington Independent’s Restuccia reports, “Momentum is building in the House to pass new regulations on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and a mixture of potentially harmful chemicals are injected into the ground in order to gain access to natural gas.”

Unfortunately, if the fate of the climate bill is any indication, any environmental legislation, even with momentum, has little chance of moving through Congress right now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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