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Pats Picks: A blip on the screen


INTRODUCTION OF THE ORIGINAL SHAHEEN-PORTMAN BILL.  Source:  You Tube, uploaded on May 13, 2011.  

The Lowdown

From January 1st to May 22nd of this year, the U.S. Senate cast a total of 163 votes.  68 of these votes – nearly 42% of all the 163 votes cast – were taken expressly to use cloture to thwart and avoid a filibuster

The partisan gridlock that has permeated the U.S. Senate was openly on display recently when Congress’ upper chamber, on a 55–36 vote, fell short of the 60 votes needed to move ahead on S. 2262-The Energy Savings and Industrial Competiveness Act of 2014, commonly referred to as the Shaheen-Portman bill. Coral Davenport reports on the bill’s derailment. Ron Brownstein explains why advancing any federal policy on climate and energy, in the future, will by-pass Congress completely, and, instead, proceed through the Executive Branch.

A modest but worthwhile piece of  legislation promoting energy efficiency, co-sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican, Shaheen-Portman: 1) deleted all mandates for tougher building-efficiency standards to please business; 2) cut provisions that would have increased the U.S. deficit to please deficit hawks; and, 3) softened requirements that federal buildings phase out the use of fossil fuels to please lobbyists and legislators beholden to the oil, gas and coal industries.  Painstakingly stitched together, compromise by compromise, it boasts endorsements from both the NRDC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Cynically it was referred to as the bill ‘built’ to pass Congress. In the aftermath of its collapse, opinions on why this bill stalled are widespread, and the public’s growing disillusionment with Congress, particularly with the U.S. Senate, is openly on display

The Hill’s Alexander Bolton captures the political intrigue that took place during the voting process. Stephen Lacey and the Energy Gang share their thoughts on why such an innocuous piece of legislation fizzled. Jonathan Chait points his finger at Mitch McConnell for the bill’s flameout. On the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal, Harry Reid gets castigated for blockading the Republicans’ requests to insert amendments into the bill – one involving a vote to go forward on the Keystone XL pipeline and another curtailing the EPA’s authority to regulate power plants – receiving the lion’s share of the blame for the bill’s ultimate collapse.  Adding a dash of perspective, Darren Goode summarizes the situation as an example of election-year maneuvering.

Congress hasn’t passed a major energy measure since 2007 when it set new efficiency standards for cars and production targets for ethanol. The original version of Shaheen-Portman was released three years ago, in May 2011 – one year after Democratic senators threw in the towel on passing significant climate legislation. In between then and now, the U.S. has experienced a slew of virulent floods, wildfires, tornadoes, droughts and hurricanes. According to NOAA, 27 extreme weather events occurred during this same time period, with each causing at least one billion dollars in damage and, in most cases, resulting in a loss of life.

The bill that died on the vine two weeks ago was the third iteration of the bill originally introduced in 2011. According to ACEEE, Shaheen-Portman 2014 was projected by 2030 to net 190,000 new jobs, save consumers $100 billion, conserve 12 quadrillion BTUs of energy and remove the equivalent of 22 million cars off the road by cutting CO2 emissions. Peddled and hyped as a conservation bill, it set out to improve the efficiency of electronic devices, appliances, green building materials, and decrease the use of fossil energy by the federal government. Tweaked, twisted, and trimmed of anything controversial to garner enough votes to avoid a filibuster, Shaheen-Portman lacked the authority to impose a single mandate.  Its claimed reductions in GHS emissions were downplayed consistently as an ancillary by-product and were never touted as one of its primary objectives – leaving pundits on the right questioning its necessity and some environmental advocates on the left questioning its integrity. Despite its promotion of energy efficiency, a tactic favored by President Obama to reach the climate goals contained in his Climate Action Plan, Shaheen-Portman never possessed the gravitas to be considered a major energy bill. From a policy perspective, it was no moonshot.  

Symbolically, however, the failure of Shaheen-Portman speaks volumes about the inability of Congress to write and pass effective energy legislation. 

One week before Shaheen-Portman’s implosion, the White House released the Third National Climate Assessment, a peer-reviewed analysis pinpointing how climate change has affected different geographical regions and sectors across the United States. This report’s region-by-region documentation of changes occurring in present time underscores the urgency to waste no time and address climate change immediately. According to Justin Gillis and Carol Browner, the timing of this report’s release was intentional – planned to build political support for the draft regulations the EPA is expected to issue on existing power plants next month.  Jonathan Cohn provides a guide on why these regulations are so important.  His take can be found here; and, it’s a must read.

There are 600 coal-fired power plants in the United States.  The regulations from the EPA are designed to reduce the carbon these plants spew into the atmosphere.  They are the cornerstone of the President’s Climate Action Plan and essential to fulfilling the United States’ commitment to reduce global GHS emissions. The entire world has a stake in how this rule plays out domestically in the U.S.  

Years from now, if Shaheen-Portman is remembered at all, it likely will be perceived as a blip on the screen – perhaps as an anecdote on how the U.S. finally got its legislative house … and Senate in order.  The real fight for clean energy begins June 2nd


Energy efficiency is something everyone can agree to.” Senator Jeanne Shaheen, September 2013

People are worried that if we can’t even pass this, we’re not in good shape to tackle the bigger stuff. We can’t even get warmed up.” Margot Anderson, Executive Director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project, reacting to the failure of the Shaheen-Portman bill to reach the Senate floor for a vote.

Today’s failure to move forward on a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill is yet another disappointing example of Washington’s dysfunction.”  Senator Rob Portman, May 12, 2014

Conventional wisdom holds that second term presidencies rarely yield accomplishments and that this second term president, in particular, has lost the ability to get much done. In one week, President Obama has a chance to prove that the conventional wisdom is wrong.  And he can do it while helping to stop the planet from cooking.”  Jonathan Cohn on the impending release of new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on existing power plants and how these regulations will impact President Obama’s legacy.

I am closely watching this. This standard is the real test of how serious the Obama climate action plan really is.”  Qi Ye, Director of the Climate Policy Center at Tsinghua University in China, anticipating the release of new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on existing power plants.


SOURCES OF CARBON EMISSIONS.  Source:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, published in the New Republic, May 27, 2014. 

ENERGY RELATED CO2 1990-2011 (Direct Emissions).  Source:  National Resources Defense Council, published in the New Republic, May 27, 2014.


U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 113th Congress - 2nd Session (2014).  January 1 to May 22, 2014

Glossary.  U.S. Senate. 

US Energy Efficiency Bill Falls to Congressional Dysfunction.  Michael Bowman.  Voice of America.  May 12, 2014. 

SUMMARY-S.2262 - Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of  May, 2014. 

Amid Pipeline and Climate Debate, Energy-Efficiency Bill Is Derailed.  Coral Davenport.  New York Times.  May 12, 2014. 

Miami Will Likely Be Underwater Before Congress Acts on Climate Change.  Ron Brownstein.  National Journal.  May 15, 2014. 

Collapse of efficiency bill and Keystone XL proposal show how unserious Republicans are on energy.  Meteor Blades.  Daily Kos.  May 9, 2014. 

U.S. Senate Republicans block energy bill, forfeit Keystone vote.  Thomas Ferraro and Timothy Gardner.  Reuters.  May 12, 2014. 

Mitch McConnell is no Genius.  Jonathan Bernstein.  Bloomberg View.  May 15, 2014. 

PRESS RELEASE.  NRDC: Energy Efficiency Bill Promotes the Cleanest, Cheapest Energy.  NRDC.  April 18, 2013. 

PRESS RELEASE.  U.S. Chamber of Commerce Supports Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Legislation.  Office of Senator Rob Portman.  April 26, 2012.

Energy Bill’s Failure Shows Congress Can’t Agree to Agree.  Jim Snyder.  Bloomberg.  May 13, 2014. 

Americans' view of Congress: Throw 'em out.  Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus.  CBS News.  May 21, 2014. 

PRESS RELEASE.  Another Missed Opportunity For America As U.S. Senate Dysfunction Takes Center Court.  Alliance to Save Energy.  May 12, 2014. 

OP-ED.  Gail Collins.  It’s No Picnic in the Senate.  New York Times.  May 23, 2014. 

Has Senate hit rock bottom?  Alexander Bolton.  The Hill.  May 16, 2014. 

AUDIO.  The Dirty Politics That Killed the Shaheen-Portman Efficiency Bill.  Stephen Lacey.  cleantechefficiency.  May 15, 2014. 

How Mitch McConnell Hacked American Politics.  Jonathan Chait.  Daily Intelligencer-N.Y. Magazine.  May 15, 2014. 

ED.  Harry Reid's Senate Blockade.  Wall Street Journal.  May 13, 2014.

GOP blocks energy bill, scuttling vote on Keystone XL pipeline.  Alexander Bolton.  The Hill.  May 15, 20124. 

U.S. Efficiency Bill Dies Again in Congress.  Christina Nunez.  The Energy Collective.  May 15, 2014. 

Industry Flexes Muscle, Weaker Energy Bill Passes.  John Broder.  New York Times.  December 14, 2007. 

Democrats pull plug on climate bill.  Darren Samuelshon and Coral Davenport.  Politico.  July 22, 2010. 

Shaheen-Portman: The low drama bill with huge benefits.  Lowell Ungar.  ACEE.  May 5, 2014. 

FACT SHEET.  Savings and Jobs in the Shaheen-Portman Bill.  ACEE.  February 26, 2014. 

The Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings Act: It's The Economy, Stupid.  Peter Kelly-Detwiler.  Forbes.  August 21, 2013. 

Barring Unforseen Developments, Last Rites for Shaheen-Portman.  Nick Juliano.  E&E News.  May 8, 2014. 

“No” On The Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill.  Heritage Action for America.  May 2, 2014. 

PRESS RELEASE.  Groups Oppose Special Interest Effort to Subvert Energy Efficiency Bill. American Institute of Architects.  February 27, 2014. 

How Obama’s Climate Plan Will Boost US Energy Efficiency.  Meg Waltner.  greentechefficiency.  July 2, 2013. 

FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The White House.  July 25, 2013. 

Shaheen-Portman: The Little Energy Efficiency Bill That Could. But Will It?  Mari Hernandez.  Think Progress.  July 15, 2013. 

Obama Administration Releases Major Climate Change Report.  Bryan Walsh.  TIME.  May 6, 2014. 

PRESS RELEASE.  National Climate Assessment Highlights Urgent Need to Cut Carbon Pollution.  NRDC.  May 6, 2014. 

U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods.  Justin Gillis.  New York Times.  May 6, 2014. 

STATEMENT: CAP’s Carol M. Browner on the National Climate Assessment.  Center for American Progress.  May 6, 2014. 

Governments Await Obama’s Move on Carbon to Gauge U.S. Climate Efforts.  Coral Davenport.  New York Times.  May 26, 2014. 

In big public push, White House seeks to smooth way for carbon curbs.  Valerie Volcovici.  Reuters.  May 23, 2014. 

Obama Announces 2020 Emissions Target, Dec. 9 Copenhagen Visit.  Lisa Friedman.  New York Times.  November 25, 2009. 

Governments Await Obama’s Move on Carbon to Gauge U.S. Climate Efforts.  Coral Davenport.  New York Times.  May 26, 2014.  

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