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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ron Wyden: Friend of the Environment? Or Republicans?

Posted by Nathan Gilles on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 1:38 PM

Remember Global Climate Change?

Yeah, it hasn’t gone away. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at some recent moves by Senator Ron Wyden. Enviros say the Democrat, lately, has been part of the problem, not the solution.

Wyden sits on the senate energy committee. He’s the next highest-ranking Democrat behind New Mexico’s Jeff Bingaman, who chairs it. Last month the committee began hearing Bingaman’s new clean energy bill. Enviros love this bill. Wyden is co-sponsoring it (and so are a lot of other Democrats). But even though he supports the chairman's bill, Wyden told Politico he has concerns about keeping energy prices low.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) — who is co-sponsoring Bingaman’s plan and is next in line to replace him as top Democrat on the panel — said he supports “the basic proposition” of the bill, but noted concerns about keeping energy prices low and giving states flexibility to meet the standard.

Okay, that sounds great, it’s a recession and all, but…

Let's not forget that, on numerous occasions, Wyden has shown his willingness to team up with Republicans, often to the confounded dismay of fellow Democrats. Remember that whole Medicare thing? This time the Wyden/Republican tag team effort is about clean energy.

Spoiler Alert! Later today, the Mercury, will publish a story about Wyden that goes something like this: Wyden is currently cosponsoring another energy bill that's being touted as a consumer protection act—even though environmentalists and clean energy advocates say it’s nothing of the sort. Instead, they say, it’s a clever way to block new transmission lines from going to wind farms and solar arrays.

This bill’s other cosponsors are all Republicans, and behind many of them is a group of privately owned utilities. Basically the greenies are saying these utilities are lobbying for the bill because new transmission lines will force them to compete with cleaner and (eventually) cheaper renewable energy. The utilities, however, say it’s all about their customers. As Sue Sheridan, who lobbies for the utilities, puts it: “Our concern is consumers receive the cheapest rates that they can." Sound familiar?

So far Wyden’s bill hasn’t had much traction. According to Sheridan, that’s because Bingaman is determined not to hear it. But this could change. Bingaman is retiring later this year. And he might end up taking his ardent environmentalism with him.

With Bingaman gone, Wyden would then be the top Democratic dog on the energy committee. This means the Wyden/Republican tag team could get those utilities precisely what they want.

As for Bingaman’s bill, this could be a last-ditch effort for the senator to tilt at some more windmills, er, smoke stacks. While this bill has the support of the enviros, it probably won't go anywhere. Poor Jeff Bingaman, poor earth.

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