OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Bingaman's challenges after Obama meeting

State of Play: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) brushed past reporters in the Capitol Wednesday evening, declining to discuss his Oval Office meeting with President Obama on energy legislation earlier in the afternoon.

But the reluctance of Bingaman and the administration to talk specifics – his office and the White House issued only broad statements about the meeting – speaks to the sensitivity of trying to shepherd an energy bill through the closely divided Senate.

Bingaman is working with the White House on Obama’s proposal to craft a “clean energy standard,” under which power companies would provide 80 percent of their electricity from low-carbon sources such as renewables and nuclear energy by 2035.

Bingaman has voiced skepticism in the past about the idea, which is a central pillar of Obama's energy agenda, instead pushing a more narrowly crafted renewable energy standard.

But while Bingaman, who is up for reelection in 2012, is now in talks with the White House, it could be tough to replicate his past success in winning some GOP support in his committee.

Indeed the panel is suddenly in uncharted terrain with the addition of five freshman Republicans: Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rob Portman (Ohio), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Dan Coats (Ind.), and new Democrats including conservative-leaning Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

More broadly, several Capitol Hill Republicans have already questioned the notion of a “clean” standard, although some – notably Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who’s not on the panel – are partial to the concept (details are another matter).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Wednesday evening that Bingaman will be a central player in crafting an energy bill.

“Senator Bingaman is working hard to come up with something we can get through the Senate,” Reid told reporters in the Capitol. Asked about timing, Reid said he wants to move “soon,” but added: “we have got to get it out of the committee, and the committee’s aren’t formed yet.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a top strategist for Senate Democrats, told E2 Wednesday that energy legislation is on the Senate agenda, but steered clear of specifics. “We’d like to do something on energy, I think there could be some bipartisan work together on energy, so we’ll try and do it as soon as we can,” said Schumer, the vice-chairman of the Senate Democratic conference.

The White House on the Bingaman meeting

A White House official said Obama discussed the role his plan will play in "creating jobs, decreasing pollution, and supporting American competitiveness."

"The President also made clear that he looks forward to working with Senator Bingaman and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to discuss and develop the best path forward to achieve this important goal," the official said, adding that they discussed other parts of Obama's energy agenda, such as expanded incentives for advanced vehicles and boosting green energy R&D.

Bingaman’s take

Bingaman, in a prepared statement of his own Wednesday, said Obama made clear that he "expects energy policy to have a major place on this Congress’s agenda.” He said the two men agreed that Congress has an opportunity to work on bipartisan legislation. “I told President Obama that I plan to work with my colleagues on both sides of the Energy Committee aisle to develop workable legislative proposals that can achieve his clean energy goals,” Bingaman said.

NEWS BITES:

Menendez introduces bill to overturn oil industry tax breaks


Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced legislation Wednesday that would eliminate billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies. The legislation is similar to a proposal President Obama outlined in his State of the Union speech.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.),  Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Lautenberg to introduce drinking water bill

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said Wednesday he will introduce legislation requiring greater monitoring of chemicals in drinking water.

In remarks at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing Wednesday, Lautenberg gave detail on his legislation.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act only allows EPA to require temporary monitoring of a small group of unregulated contaminants. So the public has no idea that they might be drinking water laden with unregulated contaminants like chromium six, gasoline additives or other toxics.”
 
“My bill would fix this problem by allowing EPA to require a targeted increase in monitoring for unregulated pollutants that could be hazardous.  In addition, my bill would require EPA to make information on contaminants in drinking water more readily available online and in simple English. “

The latest energy, environment polling

A poll commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council says that 77 percent of Americans think “Congress [should] let EPA do its job.”

A second poll, done by USA Today and Gallup, finds that 93 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of independents and 75 percent of Republicans think Congress should pass an “alternative energy bill.”

ON TAP THURSDAY

Obama to talk energy in Pennsylvania

President Obama will travel to Pennsylvania State University Thursday to give remarks on “the importance of investing in innovation and clean energy to put people back to work, grow the economy, and win the future,” according to the White House.

Oil markets in focus

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear from a top Energy Department analyst and other experts in a hearing on the energy and oil market outlook for the 112th Congress.

Look for the effect of Egypt’s turmoil to come up given concerns about potential disruption of oil traffic through the Suez Canal. Advocates of expanded offshore drilling will likely call instability in the Middle East another reason for boosting U.S. energy production.

Witnesses will include Richard Newell, administrator of the Energy Information Administration, which is the Energy Department’s independent statistical forecasting and analysis arm. A spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s ranking Republican, said she will ask witnesses “about the need to increase domestic oil production and its benefits.”

Dems renew push for tougher toxics law


A panel of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will solicit ideas Thursday on beefing up the Toxic Substances Control Act.

“We are going to have all of the stake holders present -- EPA, enviro groups, and chemical industry -- all expressing their commitment to working together to get TSCA reform done this Congress,” said Gail Ribas, a spokeswoman for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

He chairs the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health that’s holding the hearing. Officials from EPA, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Chemistry Council will attend. EPA has asked Congress to toughen the statute, and Lautenberg plans to introduce a measure.

State energy officials meet

Thursday brings the final day of the Washington, D.C. conference of the National Association of State Energy Officials. They’ll hear from speakers including the heads of several renewable energy trade associations. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

On this balmy Wednesday, E2 gave you some important information about groundhogs, told you about EPA’s efforts to regulate perchlorate and reported on the latest from the oil spill claims czar.

We also told you that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is planning climate hearings, the head of the EPA is dangling the possibility of a veto of bills blocking climate rules and a top House Democrat wants the CEO of BP to testify before Congress.

Lastly, we got our hands on a copy of new draft legislation to block EPA climate rules and heard from one of the bill’s co-authors that he’s confident he can find Democrats to support the proposal.

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

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