Reid calls for swift, sweeping energy bill

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is calling on the Senate’s key committee leaders to come up with a comprehensive energy strategy by July 4, accelerating the push for legislation in wake of the worst oil spill in American history.

Reid demanded “swift” action from Democrats “to address both the existing situation and to reduce the risks of such a catastrophe happening again.”

That’s the Politico story on the letter Reid wrote Thursday to “Committee leaders Max Baucus, Jeff Bingaman, Barbara Boxer, Chris Dodd, Patrick Leahy, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln and John Rockefeller.”

Here is the full letter:

June 3, 2010

Dear Chairmen Baucus, Bingaman, Boxer, Dodd, Leahy, Lieberman, Lincoln and Rockefeller:

As you know, I hope to bring comprehensive clean energy legislation before the full Senate later this summer.  As your Committee works to develop that legislation, I think it is extremely important that you each examine what could be included in a comprehensive energy bill that would address the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  The economic, social and environmental devastation occurring there now due to the oil pollution is unprecedented.  I believe it is important that your Committee see what can be done to address both the existing situation and to reduce the risks of such a catastrophe happening again.

Among the actions I think we need to explore are ensuring that the oil companies’ are held accountable for their actions and the damages caused by their operations.  This may require adjusting current law to more accurately assess and address the damages caused by failures, to ensure the swift and fair compensation of people and communities for their oil pollution related losses, and to update relevant criminal and civil penalty structures.  In addition, we must make sure that effective federal safety standards are in place and effectively enforced and that we are better equipped to avert, detect and adequately respond to disastrous failures in the future.

As you know, we are grossly overdependent on oil for our energy needs, in part because the oil companies have chosen not to invest their massive profits in the domestic production of clean and renewable alternative fuels that would make our nation more secure and reduce the risks of environmental disasters.  This overdependency would not be so grave an economic and national security threat except that the United States has less than 3% of the world’s oil reserves, yet consumes approximately 25% of the world’s oil production.  This grave imbalance means we send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to pay for oil every year instead of investing in clean energy jobs at home.

Clearly we cannot now afford to halt the domestic oil production that can be done safely and responsibly, but we can demand that companies operating in deepwater invest in the development and deployment of emergency response technologies and safety procedures that are sufficient to handle worst case scenarios.  But, to avoid more disasters and to reduce our vulnerability to the obvious and hidden costs of oil, we must move much more quickly to kick the oil habit as soon as possible and push harder for the production of affordable alternative fuels and advanced vehicles.

I would ask that you provide any recommendations or report legislation, if desired, in your Committee’s jurisdiction, before the Fourth of July recess to address the challenges that I have laid out above so it can be incorporated into a comprehensive clean energy bill for consideration during the July work period.  We must act soon to ensure there are no statutory impediments to quick action in the Gulf of Mexico and to moving forward rapidly on a safer, cleaner and more secure energy policy.

No mention of climate change, of course or a price on carbon pollution, unlike Obama’s recent pitch (see “Obama begins spill-to-bill pivot: BP oil disaster means we must end our dependence on fossil fuels“).  So while the chances for an energy bill has certainly risen sharply in the last month, the prospects for a shrinking cap on carbon and a rising price on carbon pollution remain uncertain.  If Obama really wants it, he will have to eschew the hand-off policy he has adopted for major pieces of legislation to date and lobby early and often for a genuine climate bill.

27 Responses to Reid calls for swift, sweeping energy bill

  1. prokaryote says:

    “clean and renewable alternative fuels that would make our nation more secure and reduce the risks of environmental disasters”

    Alternative fuels have emission and when it comes down to action on climate change, carbon negative approaches are a necessity.
    And corn fuels will have no future to increase of food scarce. Air traffic will use alternative fuels private and public transport should be tied to electricity.

    Security is best when you have dezentralized energy grids and energy distributed to the electronic mobile fleet. Israel seems to take this route. The electronic automobile revolution will create more jobs and energy to supply the demand should be met with clean energy.

    The effects we see today are from the emission 30 years ago, there is a lot in the pipeline and positive feedbacks kicking in already.

  2. fj2 says:

    RE: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

    ” . . . we are grossly overdependent on oil for our energy needs, in part because the oil companies have chosen not to invest their massive profits in the domestic production of clean and alternative fuels that make our nation more secure and reduce the risks of environmental disasters.”

    Carrot and stick approach:

    1. Loss of $45 billion subsidies

    2. High-level of regulation and oversight

    3. Criminal prosecution

    4. Instead of business models based on internal combustion engines and burning stuff, government assistance providing visioning and team-building with other major industries — such as finance, insurance, and high-technology — and companies such as IBM, HP, Intel, Verizon, and Caterpillar; moving to much more environmentally friendly business models based on such technologies as high-temperature superconductors and nano technologies capable for geo-engineering, very large scale infrastructure projects, etc.

    Craig Venter’s synthetic life supported in part by Exxon to produce biofuels is probably not-so-good an application but, to support low-cost low-weight per high strength material science, processes, and methods for adaptation, mitigation, and ultimate reversal of climate change would likely lead to some very positive highly-profitable environmentally-friendly developments building on the idea that living systems are the original nano-machines.

    Most likely, extremely sophisticated efforts would likely afford participants high return-on-investments (ROIs) through the establishment of local monopolies, of course, with realistic limits.

  3. Not A Lawyer says:

    Can’t decide what to make of the letter. But if my memory correct, Reid has generally avoided saying “climate” or “carbon” or “cap-and-trade” all year. He usually just says “comprehensive energy legislation.” That said, I disagree with the Politico story saying this letter is somehow a slap at Kerry-Lieberman. It’s been acknowledged for most of the K-L process that Reid would go back to the committee chairs at some point for more ideas. I think even they acknowledged that they weren’t looking to bypass the committee chairs.

  4. Michael Tucker says:

    “Oil companies have chosen not to invest their massive profits in the domestic production of clean and renewable alternative fuels…”

    The vast majority of oil consumption in the US is for transportation fuel. Only a very small fraction is used to generate electricity. CLEAN AND renewable alternative fuels for transportation would be either electricity or hydrogen for fuel cells; everything else is wishful thinking. Fuel cells are a future that has not yet arrived. So we have electricity. For Christ sake Reid, the oil companies are not interested in becoming wind turbine manufacturers or utility companies.

    You can blame the oil industry for a lot of tragic and catastrophic things but they are not responsible for the lack of clean and renewable alternative fuels for transportation. We desperately need transportation that is capable of using these alternative fuels. Hybrid vehicles have been around for awhile and they seem to be fairly reliable. Electric vehicles have not been proven and the cost is prohibitive to many, especially in this current economy. It will take some time to effect a change that will be meaningful to consumers of transportation fuel.

    If you want to really have an effect on CO2 emissions put a moratorium on new construction of coal power plants. WE DO HAVE CLEAN AND RENUABLE ALTERNATIVES FOR GENERATING ELECTRICITY.

    But, now, in order to capture the attention of the American public, we must put it in terms of national security, ignore the global warming side of things, and focus on oil. We must “kick the oil habit…and push harder for the production of affordable alternative fuels and advanced vehicles.” THAT is the real challenge for personal transportation and oil companies don’t make vehicles. They have been experimenting with alternative fuels but all alternative fuels are burned to provide energy thus producing greenhouse gases. Natural gas is much cleaner burning than gasoline, even gasoline produced from switch grass, and we do have domestic production. We need vehicles that can use natural gas. You politicians need to stop focusing on the easy language and think clearly about the problem and how to actually begin to make a change.

  5. Bill W says:

    Michael Tucker at #4 said “You can blame the oil industry for a lot of tragic and catastrophic things but they are not responsible for the lack of clean and renewable alternative fuels for transportation.”

    I would argue that through their extensive lobbying and funding of right-wing think tanks, they ARE responsible for our country failing to take action for decades to avert climate change. Such action would of necessity have led to the use of alternative fuels for transportation.

  6. fj2 says:

    RE: On blaming the Oil Industry for lack of clean transportation energy

    In New York City there used to be electric buses and the switch to oil came about by local corruption typical of Big Oil tactics.

    One can only guess that the same was for the switchover from a 26-mile evacuated tube U.S. mail delivery system that went from downtown Brooklyn to City Hall then uptown to Harlem and back. The U.S. mail employees that loaded the 3-foot canisters that went through this system were known as “Rocketeers”.

  7. Michael Tucker says:

    Bill W #5:

    Blame can be a funny thing. Reid wants to blame oil companies for the lack of clean and renewable alternative fuels, some want to blame Republicans, some want to blame conservative think tanks. As you have said, those despicable organizations HAVE denied all the science and the evidence regarding global warming. Reid does not propose anything to address global warming! Burning alternative fuels will not reduce CO2 or address global warming in any way! I do not think an industry that does not exist, using a technology that can only be applied in the lab, will be able to fuel personal transportation in the next 5 to 10 years. The ONLY ALTERNATIVE FUEL THAT CURRENTLY IS READY FOR USE IS CORN BASED ETHANOL. The government actively subsidizes this dangerous industry and current law requires that we produce more of it in direct competition with the food industry.

    Let’s be clear. If you burn gasoline or diesel you will produce CO2. It does not matter whether it comes from the ground or from a plant. Natural gas and ethanol are cleaner but still produce CO2. Having food compete with fuel is completely wrongheaded.

    Freedom of speech insures that we will always have to filter the information we are presented with. We must consider the source and decide for ourselves, each one of us, what is correct.

  8. Bob Wallace says:

    “Let’s be clear. If you burn gasoline or diesel you will produce CO2. It does not matter whether it comes from the ground or from a plant.”

    Up until the time it is extracted the carbon in gasoline and diesel was safely sequestered underground. Bringing it out an burning it increases the overall amount of carbon above ground.

    Burning plants does not increase the total amount of carbon above ground. (With the exception of the fuel burned to grow and process the plants.)

    Finding plants which do not use up valuable agricultural land and require large amounts of energy to grow and process can be a help in getting us off of fossil fuels. (Corn is not one of them.)

  9. Michael Tucker says:

    Bob Wallace #8

    Since such an industry does not yet exist we do not know what the CO2 cost will be to develop it. It can only be used to aid in a transition if it is available when the transition happens. As long as we have the time to invest we can: search for the plants, decide what land can be used, figure out if we can spare the water resources, and determine if we will be required to fertilize these, as yet unknown, plants. Finally we need the time to find a process that can be scaled up to meet the needs of the American market.

    I don’t know if we have the time to spare. I don’t know if switching from foreign oil to an alternative that requires domestic water is the right thing to do. We need alternatives but they need to make environmental sense and they need to be ready for market now.

  10. fj2 says:

    9. Michael Tucker, Transportation systems based on cars is an awful way to provide global mobility. For global human mobility by transport and transit based on low-cost highly-modular lighter-than-human-weight vehicles Big Oil needs only get out of the way, stop its corrupting monopolistic practices and allow this practical, safe, convenient, human-friendly, here-and-now, minimal environmental footprint technology thrive by removing its dangers from this planet’s roads and the mass corruption from this civilization’s governing bodies, media, industry, academies, etc., etc., etc.

  11. Michael Tucker says:


    So that is ready now! Fantastic! Who is making this remarkable non-car vehicle? Is it a bicycle? Electric bicycle? Is the electric bicycle the answer to this riddle?

  12. fj2 says:

    Human-powered-only recumbent trikes and bikes easily produce urban speed limits with real seats and with third-party electric assists a well-established existing upgrade.

    Users of the Shweeb recumbent elevated rail system system attain safe speeds of 56 miles per hour without the danger of collisions.

    Advanced systems in evacuated tubes, using magnetic levitation (permanent or electromagnetic), and linear induction motoring assist should be capable of speeds reaching several hundred miles per hour at much lower costs than conventional high-speed rail with the additional advantage of off-system distributed on-demand capabilities on conventional roads.

  13. fj2 says:

    11. Michael Tucker, Answer awaiting moderation but companies/products include Alize, Shweeb, MagneMotion, Bionx.

  14. fj2 says:

    11. Michael Tucker, Challenge Alize, Shweeb, MagneMotion, Bionx

  15. fj2 says:

    15. Leif, GizMag description of StringRail.

    Nice! Haven’t heard of this one. This is why a major development effort is so important and would produce much.

  16. Michael Tucker says:

    Thanks all.

    They look like interesting alternatives for public transportation for the future. I don’t think any are ready to help with a transition from oil anytime soon. Whatever we end up with for personal transportation will need to be more like the current family car than rapid transit. High speed rail will not work for a 20 mile commute. Picking up kids from school, getting groceries, and heading home will be tricky on a bike. Not sure how bikes will work in a flash flood. Not sure how they will work when it is time to evacuate to avoid the hurricane.

    Look, a lot of good ideas exist but only a very few are ready for market. We need to continue to develop these solutions but they are for the future. I hope the future is as wonderful looking as the artists rendition shown in the link that you sent Leif.

  17. Bob Wallace says:

    Michael, we are currently in the transition away from fossil fuels. The rate of change is low but accelerating.

    We should have affordable EVs and PHEVs available within the next few months. We have more efficient public transportation being rolled out. Hybrid buses and ultracapacitor buses are a couple of new developments.

    Electricity makes the most sense for personal transportation, but currently we don’t know how to store enough for planes and ocean going vessels. We need more energy dense liquid fuels for those application.

    We know about switchgrass which will grow on very marginal lands, land we would not use for agricultural use. It needs very little water and fertilizer and improves the soil along with sequestering significant amounts of carbon. (It’s an American native which at one time covered our plains.)

    We know about camelina which can be inter-cropped with wheat, giving farmers an additional income source. The military is currently using it as a test fuel in their jets.

    As far as bikes, fine for those who can ride them and live in places where riding them works. Try putting a couple of kids on one and peddling off the to doctor’s office in a snow storm. Try riding up and down San Francisco’s hills with a bum knee.

  18. fj2 says:

    17. Michael Tucker, bikes in flash flood, hurricanes
    18. Bob Wallace, “As far as bikes . . . up hills, bum knees”

    Please, most people do not know what can be done with bikes which are a relatively primitive — but very effective — form of lighter-than-human-weight transport.

  19. fj2 says:

    17. Michael Tucker,
    18. Bob Wallace,

    The major problem with lighter-than-human-weight transport compared to large heavy transport is that it is too easy to design, implement, and establish local monopolies.

  20. fj2 says:

    20. (correction),

    . . . too easy to design and implement and difficult to establish local monopolies.

  21. Leif says:

    Chances are that if you used alternate forms of transportation more and where acceptable your SUV or ICV would get a lot more years of service and be available for emergency or journeys well into the future. I an 69 and have hills and still do 6 to 8 miles a day on my bike. On top of that I attribute reasonably good health to a life time of bike substitution where practicable. We are still a two car family of two, but seldom average more than 7,000 miles combined.

  22. Raul says:

    There is one unusual problem with bicycles though. Once when bicycling
    through town, a squirrel thought it could jump through my bicycle wheel.
    Of course, because of the spokes spinning so fast and not being readily
    visible, that squirrel banged his head up against the spinning spokes.

  23. prokaryote says:

    What Abu Dhabi is beginning to generate is the silicon valley of renewable energy.

    Sent via android device.

  24. fj2 says:

    23. Raul, Squirrels are really funny.

    I told someone that a squirrel keeps looking at me each morning through my window.

    She told me that’s because I look like a nut.

    In any case, it is uncanny how much dependence on automobiles is like dependence on cigarettes.

    And, denying this is not much different than climate change denial.

  25. Raul says:

    There are many ways to be self destructive.
    And as it turns out, I really was smarter when I was younger except
    for the confusion of all my tooth fillings. But, as time passed
    I learned that even though I might think something is so that don’t
    mean it is so. So that squirrel might know where nuts come from.
    You know nuts come from the grocery store as well as all the other
    foods that are available. Restaurants are special places, though,
    they have food and it is already.

  26. fj2 says:

    25. fj2 (continued)

    I mentioned this to James Hansen a number of years ago.

    He muttered something like “impossible” and looked at his feet.

    It is amazing how deep-rooted some stuff is.

    Now that I think about it he also looked at me as if I were a nut.

    I wonder if he is a squirrel?