Over the last four weeks, a striking pattern has emerged in the Senate. Bipartisan, clean energy bills that would create jobs by cutting pollution suffered an untimely fate, cut down in their prime despite broad stakeholder backing, public support, and clear benefits to the economy and our collective health.
If it had happened only once, it would be cause for alarm. But evidence suggests we’re facing a serial offender whose actions threaten to rob businesses, consumers, and our families of clean energy’s benefits.
Who is the “perp” in this nefarious case? The preponderance of evidence suggests it’s Republican leadership, aided and abetted by fossil fuel interests. The All-Points Bulletin below lays out the case to help ensure these actions are put to a stop before it’s too late.
The first casualty was a modest energy efficiency bill proposed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH). Its aim was to increase energy efficiency through a set of volunteer policies designed to cut energy waste, resulting in dollars saved, less pollution, and more jobs. The bill garnered support from a wide range of interests, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, environmental organizations, and everyone in between. It sailed through committee consideration and then, in order to blunt objections and ease progress, the co-sponsors worked to incorporate a host of bipartisan amendments. Nonetheless, this non-controversial and well-vetted bill was struck down on the Senate floor.
The second victim, the EXPIRE ACT, had a very similar profile, although the bill’s prominence made its identical fate all the more significant. The measure would reinstate the nation’s expired suite of clean energy tax incentives that are critical to the continued growth of wind, solar, and energy efficiency technologies by providing credits and rebates to homeowners, businesses and industry. Following an amendment process, the EXPIRE ACT emerged from the Finance Committee with bipartisan support. Again, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a host of organizations supported immediate passage by the full Senate. Then Republicans, some of whom originally supported the bill, blocked its progress.
Here are a few more relevant facts that make the unfortunate fate of these bills even more inexplicable and tragic:
The Crime Scene:
As it often happens in the wake of a crime, initial press reports were quick to offer a judgment, in this case suggesting the casualties were possibly caught in a political crossfire. However, thorough forensic analysis of the crime scene — the U.S. Senate floor — reveals a far different MO: each of the victim bills was held hostage by demands from Republican leadership to offer unrelated, highly controversial amendments.
In the case of the Shaheen-Portman bill, Majority Leader Harry Reid initially acquiesced, formally offering to hold a vote on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the climate impact of which would swamp the benefits of the energy efficiency bill. But then Republican leadership made new demands, requesting votes on five additional issues, including blocking limits on carbon pollution from power plants – even before the standards have been put forward.
With the EXPIRE ACT, the demand was for a vote on a medical device provision, which falls outside the scope of a bill dedicated to restoring expired tax provisions. (This isn’t the first time Republican leadership insisted on health care-related votes at the expense of energy—or other—legislation. Such demands stalled a previous attempt to pass the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill.)
This pattern strongly argues against claims that GOP leadership was legitimately attempting to hold a debate on energy issues on the merits. It is hard to see how healthcare issues are relevant to a narrow energy efficiency bill. Equally revealing is the fact that holding a vote seeking to dismantle EPA’s power plant carbon standards before the plan’s details are even announced represents exactly the opposite of debating something on the merits nor does it acknowledge the public’s right to participate in an open, fact-based discussion.
These shifting demands fit a classic pattern for hostage-takers who hide behind lofty arguments when they really have less interest in the hostage and more in generating attention or making symbolic points.
The Prime Suspect:
Based on the above analysis, the prime suspect—namely, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell–becomes clear. But did he act alone and what motivated his behavior?
Heading into an election season, there was clear political motivation to block legislation that could be perceived as a Democratic victory while instead highlighting GOP political priorities—even at the expense of measures that would benefit Republican constituents, like continued expansion of wind energy.
Mounting evidence indicates that New Hampshire GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown urged McConnell to tank the Shaheen-Portman bill so as to deny the Democratic opponent, Senator Shaheen, a victory. A Scott Brown win would put McConnell one step closer to gaining control of the Senate for the Republican Party. Did he put 2014 politics ahead of passing a bill with wide-ranging support?
In the case of the EXPIRE ACT case, not only is it broadly backed, key provisions like the tax incentive for wind energy development directly benefit many Republican districts (80% of wind installations are in GOP districts). While Republican leadership claims to prioritize job creation, previous lapses in the renewable energy Production Tax Credit resulted in nearly 30,000 jobs lost in one year and there are reports that the current uncertainty surrounding the EXPIRE ACT is already suppressing overall growth in the clean energy sector.
So why would the Senate minority leader put a bulls-eye on this bill? Could it be because McConnell, representing coal-state Kentucky, reportedly has received significant campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, whose network of front groups and allies are spending millions to block pro-clean energy policies like those in the EXPIRE ACT?
It’s no secret that fossil fuel interests, like dirty energy barons the Koch brothers, and their congressional allies are on a mission to block clean energy’s development. A profile provides essential facts that further support the case that these interests played a prominent role in plotting the demise of both energy bills. Meanwhile, Big Oil collects billions in permanent subsidies every year while renewable and energy efficiency credits languish.
We now have crime scene analysis, a clear motive, and reasonable indications that the attacks on two key clean energy bills represent premeditated, organized actions by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supported by Big Oil henchmen.
Now that the MO is clear, our elected leaders must act fast before the culprits strike again and rescue this bipartisan bill by passing it as soon as possible after Congress returns from the Memorial Day break.