With gas prices as incentive, bipartisan energy bill 'gang' could be revived

Key senators said Tuesday they hope rising gasoline prices will serve as the impetus to reincarnate a bipartisan “gang” of lawmakers who worked in 2008 to develop a compromise energy bill.

The lawmakers hope to revive a now-disbanded group of senators who developed an energy plan in 2008 – when gas prices were at an all-time high – that would have expanded offshore drilling and provided incentives for alternative vehicles, among other things.

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The group was at first known as the “gang of 10,” but that number grew to 20 as more lawmakers joined the coalition. But the gang ultimately fell apart as Republicans, under the banner of “drill, baby, drill,” pushed for more concessions from Democrats on offshore drilling.

With gas prices at a two-year high – the average gallon of gas in the United States is $3.51 – some lawmakers want to try again. The lawmakers are mulling a range of proposals that deal both with transportation fuels and power sources.


“We have a new situation here with Libya and gas prices going up to at least look at some type of ‘American Energy Standard’ to encourage more renewables, nuclear, clean coal, everything,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who was a member of the gang in 2008. “The only way we are going to do it is if we start in the Senate with a bipartisan group.”

Klobuchar said she has reached out to Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), two of the founding members of the group, about whether they would like to hold talks on a bipartisan energy bill. Klobuchar has also reached out to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

“They may be open to it,” Klobuchar said in the Capitol Tuesday. But she stressed that lawmakers have not yet agreed to work together and talks have not begun. Klobuchar has previously called for reviving the energy gang.

Graham said Tuesday there’s a possibility the gang will reform. “That’s likely to recreate itself,” he said in the Capitol.

He said he hopes the prospect of increasing gas prices will push lawmakers to cooperate.

“At the end of the day, Congress will be tripping over themselves to find a way to lower gas prices because people are upset,” Graham said.

“I think [the prospect of] $5 a gallon gas is the best incentive I know to find a rational energy plan that would create jobs, make us more energy independent and clean up the air,” Graham said.

The lawmakers' comments come as gas prices are becoming a major political issue on Capitol Hill. Democrats have called on President Obama to tap into U.S. oil reserves to lower gas prices and Republicans have called for expanded oil and gas drilling to move off of the country's dependence on foreign oil.

Both Graham and Klobuchar said Tuesday a bipartisan energy bill could be built around a “clean energy standard” (CES), in which a certain percentage of the country’s electricity comes from low-carbon sources like wind, solar, nuclear and natural gas.

“To me a clean energy standard, regionally applied, is a way to go forward. That’s what I think makes the most sense,” Graham, who has floated such a standard, said.

It’s unclear what other provisions would be included in such a compromise. Graham specifically mentioned his support for a proposal to block Environmental Protection Agency climate rules and expand domestic oil and gas drilling.

“The plan I have in mind would allow us more domestic exploration. It would allow us to have Congress set clean air standards, not the EPA,” he said. “It would be job-centric. … It would have a clean air component.”

But some of those provisions, particularly those to block EPA’s climate authority and expand drilling, could be a tough sell for Democrats.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) could be a likely lawmaker to join a new gang. Graham and Begich have said they plan to collaborate on developing an energy bill. "Our staff have just had preliminary talks," Begich said Tuesday.

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