By Andrew Restuccia and Ben Geman - 03/17/11 12:19 AM EDT
Senior Republicans have spent months calling for an "all-of-the-above" energy approach, but have been light on specific legislative proposals, instead focusing on blocking the Obama administration's agenda.
But that's changing. Two top House Republicans are planning to flesh out the GOP agenda in coming weeks, which is expected to focus heavily on expanding domestic oil-and-gas drilling amid high energy prices.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said Wednesday he’ll introduce drilling legislation by the end of the month. Hastings told reporters Wednesday that he's planning separate bills to speed up oil-and-gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, open other offshore regions to drilling and boost onshore development.
Hastings will hold a hearing in his committee Thursday on rising gasoline prices. On Wednesday he held a hearing on the administration's offshore drilling polices. Both issues have risen to the top of the Republican agenda.
Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the House GOP's "American Energy Initiative."
The initiative's announcement last week was short on specifics, but Republicans could fill in some of the blanks Thursday in what is the first of several hearings on the issue.
Sec. Clinton says ‘hard questions’ about nuclear power needed
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday the nuclear crisis in Japan will force U.S. officials to look carefully at the power source.
“I think we're going to have to ask a lot of hard questions after what we've seen happen because all of the planning could not have foreseen what we have been witnessing,” Clinton told CNN.
U.S. officials have expressed confidence in the safety of the nation’s domestic nuclear power fleet in recent days and reaffirmed their support for nuclear energy, while pledging to take lessons that might be revealed by the Japanese catastrophe.
“I think what's happening in Japan raises questions about the cost and the risk associated with nuclear power but we have to answer those,” Clinton said in a separate appearance on MSNBC.
But she noted there are challenges with a range of energy sources and called for a “comprehensive” energy policy.
“I have concerns about a lot of our energy issues, because, clearly we're talking here in Cairo in the Middle East, in a region that supplies a lot of oil. We have oil dependence problems. We have nuclear power safety issues and waste disposal problems. We have the difficulties of getting a lot of the renewables like wind and solar and others up to scale and we have a really hard challenge convincing people that energy efficiency is actually the most effective way to try to lower our energy costs and usage,” Clinton said.
“We need an energy policy. That's something President Obama has said repeatedly, and we need it to be yesterday and it's got to be comprehensive,” she added.
Spill commission co-chair calls for thoughtful debate on spill liability
The co-chairman of the national oil spill commission advocated Wednesday for a go-slow approach to developing new liability requirements under the law in the event of another major spill.
“There are a number of things you have to pay attention to,” spill co-chairman William Reilly told The Hill. “I wouldn’t recommend precipitous determination on that. There has to be a sophisticated understanding of insurance and how it could work.”
Reilly said a decision about by how much to raise the current $75 million cap on liability from a spill is complicated. The commission, in its final report, recommended raising the liability cap, but did not say by how much.
“It’s a complicated issue and if you meet with the insurance industry, you discover that there could be a lot of unintended consequences of getting that wrong — setting the premiums high enough that they force other people out, creating an insurance pool that is so substantial that an individual operator is no longer quite so careful because the insurance is there,” he said.
Lawmakers working on a liability compromise are right to deliberate over the issue, Reilly said. Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) have been working for months to come to a compromise on liability.
Drilling opponents like Boxer have called for unlimited liability, while drilling advocates like Landrieu and Begich have said unlimited liability would deter drilling in the Gulf.
Begich and Landrieu have said they will release a proposal on the issue soon.
Senate climate vote uncertain after Wednesday fizzle
The Senate did not vote Wednesday on a GOP plan to kill EPA climate rules, and it’s not clear when the chamber might take up the amendment to small business legislation that’s on the Senate floor. It was the second straight day that an anticipated vote did not materialize.
Backers of the plan — which might attract several Democrats — say Democratic leaders are backing off plans to allow a vote, fearing a bad outcome.
It’s very unlikely to get the 60 votes needed for adoption, but a majority vote against EPA rules would be a political setback for climate advocates.
But key liberal Democrats have denied they’re stalling or backing off. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a strong advocate of emissions curbs, said the lack of a vote thus far is not a Democratic retreat.
“We have the votes to defeat it,” he said in the Capitol Wednesday, chalking up the lack of a vote thus far to logistics. “I think they are balancing the whole schedule,” he said.
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in an e-mail to reporters Wednesday evening that the reason for the delay was uncertain, noting Democrats are “just not ready to vote on this important legislation.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he planned to allow a vote on the measure at some point. A spokesman for Reid was not immediately available for comment Wednesday evening.
As we said yesterday evening, stay tuned.
ON TAP THURSDAY
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will take a look at global clean energy investments and the potential effect on the United States.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on jobs created from the Clean Air Act.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on a Republican energy proposal called the “American Energy Initiative.” The bill will focus on oil and gas prices, as well drilling.
- The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on gas prices, which will include testimony from Energy Information Administration and Government Accountability Office officials, among others.
- The House Appropriations Committee will take a look at the Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget request for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — the agency charged with overseeing offshore drilling, among other things. BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich will testify.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the Department of Energy’s recovery act spending. DOE’s inspector general and chief financial officer will testify. The hearing comes as Republicans have criticize DOES’ stimulus spending, setting their sites on a troubled California solar plant.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists will release a report on U.S. nuclear safety
- The Heritage Foundation will hold a discussion called, "Ending America's Addiction to Energy Subsidies." Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) will speak.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…
Here’s a quick roundup of Wednesday’s E2 stories:
— Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said the reaction to the nuclear crisis in Japan has been overblown
— House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he’s “not straying” from his support of nuclear power
— Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) floated a bill to require an economic analysis of EPA rules
— Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) compared the nuclear crisis in Japan to Chernobyl
— House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said he’ll offer a drilling bill
— Democrats called on President Obama to tap U.S. oil reserves
— Inhofe said he would continue to offer his bill to block EPA climate regulations as an amendment
— EPA proposed first-ever mercury standards
— Hastings said he’ll offer multiple drilling bills
— The U.S. recommended that Americans stay 50 miles away from the Japanese nuclear plant that has suffered a partial meltdown
— Democrats called for a broad review of U.S. nuclear power
— There will be no vote Wednesday on an amendment to block EPA climate rules
— And top House Republicans came over to the Senate to talk climate