As President Bush goes on the stump today (not on his bike) to plug the much-hyped “biodiesel,” several fascinating story lines will start to unfold tomorrow, when the Senate Energy Committee begins work on its version of energy legislation. As you probably know, last Friday the committee released some provisions of draft legislation. These were worked out in bipartisan fashion and don’t contain some of the extraordinarily bad provisions in the House-passed version of the legislation (for example, the provision by Rep. Joe Barton, R-TX, that would weaken the Clean Air Act). However, the panel has not joined battle on some of the biggest issues – including the need for better fuel economy standards (the quickest way to start reducing our dependence on foreign oil), liability protection for makers of the additive MTBE (see more on this, below) and incentives for nuclear power.
On the nuclear issue, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has rocked the behind-the-scenes debate by circulating draft legislation that would link his effort to curb global warming to incentives for nuclear power. The New York Times reported on this yesterday, while giving appropriate credit to Energy Daily for reporting on the story first. The Times noted that McCain met last week with the head of General Electric, which kicked off a big pro-green pr blitz last week while lobbying for nuclear subsidies and a for delay in its obligation to clean up the poisoned Hudson River. (For more on this, see http://www.tompaine.com/articles/20050513/ges_greenwashing.php )
Needless to say, many environmentalists are grappling with how to respond to this potential change in the political landscape. Being anti-nuclear has long been a part of orthodox environmentalist thinking, and I suspect many if not most environmentalists will continue to challenge the idea of a nuclear revival. However, there have been some gradual shifts in recent months. You may recall the bi-partisan National Commission on Energy Policy included a pro-nuclear recommendation. And the Times notes that some big-name environmentalists say they are open to a re-examination of nuclear power in the context of global warming. Stay tuned, because this promises to be a contentious battle as the energy debate proceeds.
Another fascinating item today in the Boston Globe, which reports that a company largely owned by the Saudi government has spent more than $1.5 million since 1998 lobbying Congress to shield the industry from liability for damages caused by MTBE. The Globe notes that “The Saudi company, SABIC, is a leading maker of MTBE… The company, which has a member of the Saudi royal family as its chairman, has an office in Houston and a research and technology center in Sugar Land, Texas, [Rep. Tom] DeLay’s hometown and political base.” DeLay, of course, has been a leader in the effort to protect this company, as has Joe Barton.
This story is not likely to help the MTBE makers as the Senate energy debate proceeds!