Senate should not rush to pass energy legislation, no matter its content

Lance Brown Contributor
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With less than two weeks until the August recess, the U.S. Senate has a lot on its plate. In addition to Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan’s hearing, the Senate will consider a number of bills covering topics ranging from taxes to food safety to my favorite topic, energy.

We’ve seen a number of energy bills come and go over the past year, ranging from Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) 15 percent renewable energy standard, to Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) and Sen. Susan Collins’s (R-ME) cap-and-dividends proposal, to Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) many attempts at passing cap-and-trade.

Now, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has decided that the Senate will not have the votes to pass a renewable energy standard or any sort of carbon-cap program. He has instead released the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act, which includes measures like incentives for energy efficiency and accountability standards for oil companies in the event of another disaster like the one in the Gulf.

I agree that we should be encouraging energy efficiency as part of a comprehensive energy package, when it makes sense in terms of cost and reliability to do so. I also agree that we need to ensure that a disaster like the spill in the Gulf never happens again, while at the same time finding ways to utilize our country’s abundant natural resources in a safe and efficient manner.

However, the rush to pass this energy bill—or any energy bill that can get 60 votes, it seems—is foolhardy.

Congress has been debating a comprehensive energy package for nearly a year, but the Senate is ready to rush passage of an entirely new energy proposal in the remaining days before the recess.

This is disconcerting because, over the past year, we’ve seen many studies showing the detrimental cost and reliability impacts of the various energy proposals. We still don’t completely know what impact a renewable energy standard or cap-and-trade will have on energy costs, energy reliability, or the economy as a whole. Yet, some members of Congress are ready to pass this un-vetted bill just so they can tell their constituents they passed an energy bill when they are home in the district next month. (Now, I’m not convinced that the majority of Americans would be happy with the passage of an energy bill, but that’s another topic!)

Furthermore, it’s possible that some of the troubling proposals, like a renewable energy standard or carbon tax or cap, could be included in the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act. Congressional scholars have noted that the Senate leaders have procedural methods to add these provisions into the conference bill, for example. It’s possible that these provisions could be offered as an amendment, too.

It’s clear that the energy bill is too much in too little time. As the economy is beginning to turn around, it is not the time to raise energy costs. And with less than two weeks to debate and pass legislation before the August recess, it is definitely not the time to rush to pass legislation that will impact every aspect of the economy and every type of consumer.

I urge Congress to take a breather and focus on energy when they have the time to focus on creating the best energy plan for our country.

Lance Brown is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy.