President Obama has been hogging the energy spotlight lately after outlining a new energy policy, but Senate Republicans have come up with a few ideas of their own.
On Thursday, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) introduced the Domestic Jobs, Domestic Energy and Deficit Reduction Act of 2011. Those supporting the bill say the “3-D Act” would create 2 million jobs, $10 trillion in economic activity and generate $2 trillion in federal tax receipts. Opponents of the bill say it would have little impact on gas prices, restrict citizens' rights to air their concerns over development, and undercut the growth of the renewable energy sector.
Essentially, the “3-D Act” is a six-pronged approach focused on mandating oil leases on the outer continental shelf, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, speeding up the process for onshore drilling permits, restricting the judicial and environmental review process for oil drilling, blocking carbon emissions regulations and creating an alternative energy trust fund.
The bill is believed to be too controversial to pass the Senate, but Vitter thinks that high gas prices in the United States will provide the political pressure to garner support in both houses of Congress. "Wait and watch," he said on Thursday. "As the price at the pump goes to $4 … attitudes can change pretty quickly. We saw that in the summer of 2008, and I think we're about to see that again." Those opposing the plan say the gas price argument makes little sense, since gas prices are set on a global marketplace, and even if the bill was signed into law today, it would be years before any increase in production would be seen.
ANWR back on the table, this time with a trust fund
There are plenty of other concerns with the bill. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been a nonstarter for energy policy for decades now. Democrats have consistently opposed any measures that include drilling in ANWR; Republicans have consistently favored it. This time around, Republicans are hoping to gain support by sending 25 percent of all the royalties from ANWR oil extraction to a trust fund for renewable energy.
Offshore and onshore debates continue
When it comes to speeding up the permitting process for offshore drilling, the idea is unpopular with politicians feeling uneasy after the Gulf oil spill. But if recent comments by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are any indication, the offshore permitting process could be an area where Republicans and Democrats reach agreement. But the onshore process seems less likely to win bipartisan support. While Vitter and Bishop contend that the government is too slow to issue land-based drilling permits, they have to beat back facts about the millions of acres permitted for drilling that oil companies aren’t developing. Compounding the challenges of getting this bill passed are comments from bill co-sponsor Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who said the the proposed bill, “will take the boot off the neck of domestic energy producers and unlock our domestic energy potential." Cornyn’s comment certainly brings some classic imagery to the discussion, but it is likely to draw attacks from many who find it hard to believe that oil companies making billions of dollars in profits during a recession have had boots on their necks.
Limit on public appeals
One reason that the bill's sponsors say the drilling permitting process takes so long is that drilling requests often get tangled up in years of litigation. To change this, the bill calls for a shortened, 90-day window for people or organizations to challenge the federal government’s energy decisions in the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals. The “3-D Act” would also limit the grounds on which groups and individuals could file their challenges.
Just say no to carbon emissions regulation
Keeping the government from regulating carbon emissions is almost a boilerplate addition to all energy legislation coming from Republicans and Democrats who reside in fossil fuel-rich states. Thus, no one is surprised that this was included in the “3-D Act” — but that doesn’t make it any less divisive. The language in the bill promises to block “regulation of CO2 by administrative fiat.”
This language takes direct aim at the EPA’s attempts to impose emissions regulations on power plants and other sources of CO2. Because the “3-D Act” is unlikely to pass, this often-contentious issue is likely to do nothing more than incite more climate change debate on Capitol Hill. But attempts to strip the EPA of its regulatory authority when it comes to CO2 aren’t going anywhere. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) sponsored a bill to delay the EPA’s plans to regulate emissions for two years. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) saw his most recent amendment to strip the EPA’s regulatory authority for emissions fail in the Senate, but he has said he plans to include similar amendments to numerous bills this year.
So there it is: the counterplan to Obama’s energy proposal. To some, it is different and controversial, but it is a detailed alternative. Now we'll have to see if an agreement can be reached.