E2 Morning Roundup: Reid sets lame duck energy showdown, Salazar to lay out drilling strategy, oil sands battle heats up, senators weigh Obama’s piecemeal climate approach, and much more

Several Senate Democrats said they’re ready to let go of the kind of sweeping measure that narrowly passed the House in 2009 but hit a brick wall in the Senate this year.

“Whether we do it in pieces or we do it in a more comprehensive fashion, we need to put in place a policy that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) in the Capitol Wednesday.

“If a piecemeal approach gets us to those goals, so be it, if it takes a comprehensive approach, that works for me as well,” he added.

“We are going to get it done, one way or the other – chunks or big chunks,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Obama, indeed, is not the first person to express support for a pro-chunks strategy. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) last week said bluntly, “We don’t do comprehensive well,” in explaining that the Senate needs to take up piecemeal energy plans that have some bipartisan support. And Reid also played the “piecemeal” card when arguing in August that efforts to tackle climate change in the next Congress should start with a narrow approach.

Dissent!

But not everyone is warm to the chunks idea. “I think it is a self-fulfilling prophecy when the President of the United States gives up on a large and comprehensive bill and says that chunks are necessary,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

He sees drawbacks to a piecemeal approach. “It will take a lot more work, it limits the options for compromise, but on the other hand it may be that they feel that’s all they can accomplish,” he said when asked if it’s a good idea.

Senate blocks recess appointments with deal between Dems, GOP

The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday night to a Republican demand to block President Obama from making recess appointments while Congress is out of town campaigning for the midterm elections.

That means the White House could not – even if administration officials wanted to – quickly short-circuit Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) hold on Senate confirmation for Jacob Lew, the nominee for Office of Management and Budget director.

Landrieu, who is angry about the freeze on deepwater oil-and-gas drilling, expects negotiations with the administration to continue for weeks.

The drilling ban fight gets Biblical

Landrieu says that the temporary deepwater ban and the slow pace of shallow-water drilling permits are a major blow to the Gulf Coast economy.
She hopes her hold is having an impact, and for good measure, evoked the struggle of Moses, as depicted in Exodus 8:1.

“It’s intended to call attention, to put pressure and to speed up the release of the hostages,” she said Wednesday. “Let my people go. Let them go. Let them get back to work, and hopefully it’s helping.”

Secret to Senate success? Just show up

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) Wednesday gave some insight into the secret of being a successful senator – or at least making sure nothing bad happens to your state, legislatively speaking.

Referring to the failed Senate climate talks this year at an energy event hosted by National Journal, Begich said, “They had meetings every Tuesday and I participated. … I’m not sure I was invited, but I showed up because what I’ve learned around the Senate is if you don’t show up more than likely something’s happening to you.”

On tap Thursday II: Warning signs on rare earth minerals

A Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee panel will explore concerns that the U.S. could lose access to Chinese rare earth minerals that are vital to manufacturing wind turbines, electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies.

Lawmakers and Obama administration officials are focusing on how to bolster domestic supplies. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who will chair the hearing, will warn that “we are not just dependent on other countries for the ore; we depend on others for many refining steps of the supply chain.”

Ensuring a secure supply of strategic minerals is “paramount,” she plans to say in opening remarks, warning that China is on track to absorb all of its production of rare earths as soon as 2012.

House passes rare earth bill

Across the Capitol, the House on Wednesday easily passed Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper’s (D-Pa.) bill to beef up Energy Department R&D, demonstration and application programs to create a secure supply of the materials. It also authorizes federal loan guarantees for projects to mine and develop rare earth minerals. The vote was 325-98.

In case you missed E2 Wire yesterday

Check out our Wednesday posts:

Sen. Rockefeller admits he can't overcome a White House veto of EPA reg delay

Capps, Markey push Senate on spill commission subpoena power

Rockefeller: Mine safety bill has 'less of a chance' next year

Poll: Murkowski in dead heat with Miller in Alaska Senate race

Landrieu sees weeks of talks over hold on nomination for head of OMB

Bingaman: No time left to change renewable energy bill

Murkowski remains in Alaska, misses Stevens's funeral and GOP caucus meeting

Sen. Graham will ‘block any effort’ to slow oil sands imports

Reid, Coburn in floor spat over shark bill 

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