First it looked like the Senate might pass a big comprehensive climate-change bill. Then we found out, no, there weren't 60 votes for any such thing. Well all right, greens muttered, why don't we just settle for a cap on utility emissions and a renewable electricity standard? Nope, not enough votes for that either. Ooookay, well how about a bill that at least regulates the oil industry, what with all that gook bobbing around in the Gulf? No, no, and… no. And yes, it was awfully quaint for greens to have believed that a legislative body might actually be able to pass legislation.
So is that it? Is absolutely nothing going to pass on energy this year? That's the betting line. But earlier today, Harry Reid suggested that the renewable electricity standard might just make a comeback during the lame-duck session after the midterms:
Before the August recess, Reid said he doubted an RES — which would require utilities to provide escalating amounts of power from sources like wind and solar energy — could win 60 votes. It was left on the cutting-room floor when Reid unveiled a modest energy bill in late July.
But Reid told reporters on a conference call Tuesday the energy bill is still a work in progress and cited two Republicans who have expressed interest in an RES. He did not name them.
Sam Brownback, for one, has spoke out in favor of a (fairly modest) renewable electricity standard, presumably because Kansas has a lot of prime spaces for wind farms. That said, getting sixty votes for anything these days is no stroll on the Mall.
Still, from an environmentalist perspective, the renewable standard would be a decent consolation prize now that cap-and-trade's going nowhere. As I've written before, there are a lot of EPA regulations trickling down the pipe that will likely force the closure of a bunch of dirty coal plants in the coming years—possibly as much as 20 percent of U.S. coal-fired capacity. A renewable standard will ensure that those plants are replaced by cleaner sources of power. (Although there's a fat caveat here that doesn't get mentioned nearly enough: A lot of the RES proposals would lean heavily on biomass, which can devastate forests and kick up a lot of carbon if not done properly.)