Opinion

Energy and climate, March Madness-style

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Thomas Pyle
President, Institute for Energy Research
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      Thomas Pyle

      Thomas J. Pyle is the president of the Institute for Energy Research and the American Energy Alliance.

      The Institute for Energy Research (IER) is a not-for-profit organization that conducts intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets. IER maintains that freely-functioning energy markets provide the most efficient and effective solutions to today’s global energy and environmental challenges and, as such, are critical to the well-being of individuals and society. The American Energy Alliance (AEA) is IER’s grassroots advocacy arm which strives to engage and educate everyday Americans on the impact of energy and environmental policies.

High stakes, tall-odds, last-second heaves and long-shot upsets—to some, March Madness represents one of the most exciting events on the calendar, and among the most heavily wagered on as well. But who’s talking about basketball? On Capitol Hill, more than a dozen competing energy and environmental proposals are in the process of making their final case to the committee, and gearing up for a furious race to the finish in 2010.

Who’s in the best spot to lay claim to the coveted glass slipper this year—and who might be destined for an early-round exit? My colleagues and I at the American Energy Alliance took a look at the field of climate combatants this year, and, after applying the most rigorous methods of bracketology to date, came up with the following assessment of who’s up, who’s down, and how it all might unfold in the weeks and months to come.

Waxman Region

  1. H.R. 2454 (Waxman-Markey): The University of North Carolina of this region, the American Clean Energy and Security Act topped the competition last year as the marquee program of 2009 and the only climate-related bill to earn the approval of the U.S. House. This year, however, has produced different results—a function both of a tough political environment, and the early departure of some of the effort’s top personnel (again, similar to UNC). Still, like the Tar Heels, the Waxman-Markey bill continues to benefit from a deep fan base, and fervent support among a wide swath of committed and well-heeled alumni. And for once, it can count on having Duke (Energy, that is) on its side.
  2. Kerry-Graham: Little is known about how this (as of this writing, unwritten) bill might hold up under the rough and tumble of the post-season. Still, the appeal of Kerry-Graham lies in its potential to yield an imposing squad of energy and climate All-Americans—a nuclear piece for the SEC, an offshore energy add-on for the ACC, and a nationwide cap-and-trade plan written predominately for the benefit of the Pac-10. Can all these stars survive on the same team—with a limited number of touches to go around?
  3. H.R. 890 (American Renewable Energy Act): Introduced last February—too late to earn a bid to the ’09 field—Chairman Markey’s American Renewable Energy Act would establish a renewable electricity trading program, essentially a inside-out approach to implementing both an RPS and cap-and-trade on the same trip down the court. The bill would also mandate the creation of a Renewable Electricity Deployment Fund—an account paid into by electricity suppliers that have no chance of meeting the 25 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandate by 2025.
  4. H.R. 1787 (Inslee LCFS bill): Perhaps not as well known to a broader national audience, the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) bill authored by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) is seen by many as a dark horse candidate for advancement—assuming early upsets of stiffer competition. Having toiled this past year in the obscurity that comes with being a mid-major, the Inslee LCFS bill has nonetheless pulled together an impressive resume of support, with more than 20 states currently considering a version of the Inslee plan that seeks to creatively (if not entirely effectively) achieve its emissions reductions by putting the kibosh on energy derived from Canada’s oil sands.

Bingaman Region

  1. S. 1462 (American Clean Energy Leadership Act): Analogous to Syracuse in this region, the workman-like energy and climate bill crafted by Chairman Bingaman may not be flashy, but what it lacks in glitz and above-the-rim athleticism it more than makes up for in its ability to avoid the big turnovers—which, in this case, means cap-and-trade. More than that, the Bingaman bill knows how to fill up a stats sheet: incorporating an RPS piece, investments in the so-called smart-grid, several assists for offshore energy, and even a workforce training component.
  2. S. 1462 (Bingaman RPS provisions only): While the comprehensive energy and climate bill reported out by the Bingaman panel this year enjoys broad support in the upper chamber, the chairman of the selection committee happens to reside in the House—and it’s well known she isn’t quite as enamored with this legislation. Given that, the early line appears to be tilted toward a scaled down Bingaman bill emerging as a prime contender in the Senate—keeping in place the bill’s aggressive RPS line-up, while relegating to the bench several components of the bill considered unpopular among the committee’s left-leaning factions.