Top Utility-Fueled Senators Are Skeptical Of Clean Energy Reform

Our guest blogger is Stacy Morford, managing editor for

capitol-lightsThe electric utility industry has been one of Congress’s top campaign contributers for years. Already in the still young 2009-2010 election cycle, it has contributed $2.4 million to congressional campaigns. During the 2007-2008 election cycle, when the Senate rejected the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, the industry gave $20.6 million.

As the Senate debate ramps up, the top ten Senate recipients of electric utility contributions so far this cycle have staked out positions on the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act that range from skepticism to virulent opposition.

Byron Dorgan (D-ND): $70,200

Dorgan, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is the top recipient of campaign cash connected to electric utilities so far in the 2010 election cycle. He’s leery of the cap-and-trade approach, and he sees a future still powered by fossil fuels. His home state happens to have vast coal reserves. Dorgan wrote in a recent opinion article in the Bismarck Tribune that to protect the environment and make the nation less dependent on foreign oil, the U.S. should:

Establish caps on carbon that are accompanied by both adequate research and development funding and reasonable time lines for implementation to develop and commercialize technologies that will greatly reduce the CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

Lisa Murkowski (R-AK): $60,000

Murkowski is the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She criticized ACES for not promoting nuclear and oil and gas development. When her committee took up its own energy bill earlier this year, she pushed for a lower renewable energy standard of 15 percent by 2021, opening the Florida coast to oil drilling, creating a green bank that could heavily benefit nuclear development, and providing ample funding to Alaska’s natural gas pipeline project.

Richard Burr (R-NC): $55,449

Burr, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, believes in an “all options on the table” approach. He supports energy efficiency and renewable energy development, as well as continued oil exploration. He also believes nuclear “can and must be part of the energy solution if our country wants to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Evan Bayh (D-IN): $42,550

Bayh is also a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Indiana is a manufacturing state that relies almost entirely on coal for electricity. Bayh opposed even a low 15 percent Renewable Electricity Standard, and he opposed cap-and-trade last year, saying he wanted to protect consumers.

Charles Grassley (R-IA): $25,000

Grassley is a member of the Senate Finance Committee that will work out the details of emissions allocations. He says he would have voted against the House version of ACES. Grassley’s state is No. 2 in wind power, but he worries about higher energy prices for farmers, and he is skeptical of the trade part of a cap-and-trade program being gamed by Wall Street. He also worries about international competition: “It’s going to be very detrimental to the economy of the United States if we pass a bill an the other counties of the world don’t follow along – and I have my doubts if they will follow along.”

Blanche Lincoln (D-AR): $22,850

Lincoln is a member of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as its Agriculture and Finance committees. She supports offshore drilling, has pushed to reduce any national renewable energy standard, and has called the House version of the energy bill “a complete non-starter”.

Arlen Specter (D-PA): $22,499

Specter, who recently switched his party affiliation, is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and comes from a coal-producing state. In the second sentence of his home page’s energy discussion he writes: “Pennsylvania’s strong agricultural, manufacturing and other industrial sectors rely heavily on energy production, and Pennsylvania consumers deserve reliable, affordable energy.” However, he also has supported up to a 20 percent renewable energy standard.

Richard Shelby (R-AL): $20,650

Shelby summed up his opinion of the cap-and-trade policy this way: “That would be the biggest tax you have ever seen.” To cut U.S. reliance on foreign oil, he stands behind the GOP’s all-of-the-above policy, including more drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

David Vitter (R-LA): $19,499

Vitter, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee that is spearheading the climate bill in the Senate, is vehemently against putting a price on carbon emissions. He argues that it would “have a profoundly negative impact on Louisiana’s economy in particular, bringing about significant job loss and increased energy prices – neither of which we need in these trying economic times." Vitter was tied for dead last on the Republicans for Environmental Protection’s 2008 Senate Scorecard.

Robert Bennett (R-UT): $18,500

Bennett, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, believes global warming is a serious issue, but says he worries about the cost of regulation to his constituents.

The top ten Senate recipients of electric utilities-related campaign cash since 1990 who are still in the chamber are:

  1. John McCain (R-AZ) $709,391
  2. George Voinovich (R-OH), $570,726
  3. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), $525,590
  4. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), $515,177
  5. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), $494,594
  6. Max Baucus (D-MT, Finance Committee Chairman), $473,143
  7. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman) $464,909
  8. Arlen Specter (D-PA), $452,996
  9. James Inhofe (R-OK) $435,967
  10. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), $365,000.

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