Dick Lugar’s Practical Plan

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Dick Lugar

Dick Lugar

On June 9, the day before the Murkowski Dirty Air resolution was defeated, Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) filed what he calls a “possible bipartisan framework” for energy legislation. It’s an open question how bipartisan this framework will be. At this writing Lugar’s Practical Energy and Climate Plan, S. 3464, has two co-sponsors:

  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) whose failed resolution meant to gut the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act by declaring that the Senate found fault with the scientific basis of EPA’s declaration that fossil fuels cause greenhouse gases, which are harmful to the public health and well being; and

  • Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who collaborated with John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) long enough to get them to incorporate some Republican-friendly provisions in what is now the Kerry-Lieberman bill, then withdrew his support with the flimsiest of excuses.

It’s hard to imagine Lugar’s bill triggering a Kumbaya moment, or even a willingness of the two political parties to explore their differences and try to find common ground. I realize, in saying this, that I am painting Senatorial Democrats and Republicans with the same brush, and that’s not entirely accurate.

Kerry-Lieberman has already swallowed whole chunks of Republican values – subsidies for nuclear power and incentives to coastal states that allow offshore drilling for oil, for example.

Lugar gives a nod in the direction of President Obama’s demand that industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions by saying that his bill will “cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20% over business as usual…by 2030. This climate savings trajectory meets nearly half of President Obama’s 2020 climate goal.”

Nearly half the president’s goal? Ten years later? And you call this the way to a bipartisan framework, Dick?

In introducing his bill to the public, Dick Lugar engages in a spot of disingenuousness (a word often used as a euphemism for dishonesty) by putting then-Senator Obama’s name into play.

Regarding fuel efficiency, Lugar’s statement says his bill will cause auto emission standards to increase auto efficiency by 4% starting in 2016. He gives as a reference “Annual increase proposed in Obama-Lugar S.3694 (109th Congress).”

The word “proposed” is easily overlooked, and the sentence makes it seem that (1) S.3694 in the 109th Congress actually led to reduced emissions and (2) Obama and Lugar were worked together to get it enacted. In fact, Obama filed the bill, Lugar was one of 10 Senators who signed on as co-sponsors, and it never got out of committee. But by giving the impression that Obama-Lugar is the law of the land (without ever actually saying it) Lugar also gives the impression of a bipartisan bent.

Subtlety, thy name is Lugar.

Over at earth2tech.com, Josie Garthwaite has a list of nine provisions in Lugar’s energy bill. I’m condensing them here, leaving out details and background information, but the link will take you to the whole story.

Lugar proposes to pick the lower-hanging fruit for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by boosting efficiency for cars, light trucks and new buildings. The bill also emphasizes reducing oil imports by raising vehicle fuel economy standards and supporting domestic oil production.

Lugar’s bill would not set mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and it avoids the issues of offshore oil drilling and cap and trade.

The bill would let coal plants skip investments in technology needed to comply with environmental regulations if they voluntarily enter a binding agreement to shut down by the end of 2018.

Lugar calls for increasing federal loan guarantees to a total of $36 billion to finance nuclear power plants, as proposed in the Obama administration’s 2011 budget request.

Under Lugar’s proposal, utilities and states would be able to count renewable energy sources, “clean coal” with carbon sequestration, nuclear power and efficiency improvements toward national standards for gradually increasing the percentage of cleaner resources in the energy generation mix . States would also have the option of an up to three-year deferral period to meet the targets.

The bill would increase fuel economy standards by 4 percent each year, starting with the 2017 model year….But these increases could be waived if the Secretary of Transportation demonstrates the targets will not be cost effective or will compromise vehicle safety.

There are also $1,000-$3,500 tax credits (depending on the year and relative fuel economy) for new passenger vehicles and light trucks purchased or leased [….] that rank among the best in their class for fuel economy, starting in 2011.

Lugar calls for an expansion of the Department of Energy program supporting cellulosic biofuels to include all renewable fuels, specifically including algae and excluding grain.

Lugar proposes offering low-interest loans through the USDA Rural Utilities Service to help rural consumers pay for efficiency-boosting retrofits on their homes [….]

In a letter to Lugar when the bill was filed, Energy Secretary Steven Chu obeyed the pedagogical rule of offering praise before criticism. (The theory is that people hear the criticism better after receiving praise. This theory has been demonstrated repeatedly in studies involving college students It works even when the students know the theory and that they will be praised first.)

Chu commended Lugar’s focus on energy efficiency, writing “In particular, I appreciate your ideas for reducing America’s oil dependence — which has taken on greater urgency as a result of the BP oil spill,” But Chu added, the nation needs “comprehensive legislation that puts a price on carbon and makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy.”

The Senate now has before it a range of approaches to dealing with energy and climate change issues. My next essay will explore the various philosophies expressed by the bills and wonder aloud whether any accommodation is possible.

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2 Responses to “Dick Lugar’s Practical Plan”

  1. The impact of the gulf oil spill will not be measured for years to come. It really breaks my heart to see the pictures of the animals in pain because of us and our greed.


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