Senate Democrat: Energy bills stalled until fiscal ‘grand bargain’ is struck

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has reached a sobering conclusion: Energy legislation will remain stuck in the political mud until Washington reaches a sweeping – and thus far elusive – financial agreement.

“Until we get a clear architecture built dealing with taxes, revenues, entitlements and federal spending, I think any broad policy initiative is not going to move,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in an interview Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT
“So that speaks to the need for Bowles-Simpson to be implemented,” added Udall, referring to the broad 2010 plan by the federal commission headed by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erksine Bowles, who was President Clinton’s chief of staff.

That plan has not gained enough traction on Capitol Hill.

Talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to strike a “grand bargain” on spending and tax policy collapsed last year, while bipartisan Senate talks on debt and related matters have also fallen short.

Udall has long been a key backer of a “renewable electricity standard” for utilities that would require an increasing share of the nation’s power to come from sources like wind, solar and geothermal.

He also supports a related proposal for a “clean energy standard” that would credit renewables and other low-carbon sources. 

In addition Udall, in the interview, said that he’d like to see lawmakers dust off a broad bill – called the American Clean Energy Leadership Act – that passed the energy committee on a bipartisan basis in 2009.

But anything ambitious, he said, is dependent on a fiscal deal coming first.

“I think they are all held hostage to a grand bargain, a grand deal, a long-term plan to put the country’s fiscal house in order, and that’s why I think it is so important to do so,” Udall said in the Capitol. “When we do – I am going to say when – then it opens the door to have a discussion about priorities and where federal revenues, federal resources should be directed.”

Udall, however, expressed hope that even in the absence of a wider deal on debt, taxes and entitlements, Congress can move on more targeted energy plans. 

He cited examples including energy efficiency legislation sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and a proposal to help spur development of small modular nuclear reactors.

A major near-term priority, Udall said, is winning extension of the wind energy production tax credit that is slated to expire at year’s end and is crucial to financing new projects.