"In the world we live in," President Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs told White House reporters Thursday, "everything takes 60 votes."
Gibbs was not finished with his press briefing when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) emerged from a high level caucus to announce the Senate will move forward with a starkly scaled-back energy bill that will emphasize natural gas and home efficiency retrofits, but will not leave a lot of room for renewables. Also absent: carbon regulations.
"Many of us want to do a thorough, comprehensive bill that creates jobs, breaks our addiction to foreign oil and curbs pollution," Reid said, describing what is not going to happen. "We don't have a single Republican to work with," he said in announcing the legislation he believes can muster the 60 Senate votes necessary to beat a filibuster.
The "spill bill" he will bring to the Senate floor next week will have four components: Procedures "to hold BP accountable," support for the transforming of the U.S. heavy transport fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG), the HomeStar proposal to fund energy efficiency retrofits for U.S. homes and buildings, and a land and water conservation fund.
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who worked long and hard for a comprehensive bill that included a limited cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) to buoy renewables over the long term, called it an "admittedly narrow, limited bill."
Offering eventual hope for a comprehensive energy and climate legislation going forward, Kerry described watching the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) work on health insurance reform for 40 years and said, "This is not going to take that long. This in not going to take close to that long."
It was not great solace to environmentalists. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today delivered very bad news to the American people," wrote David Hawkins, Director of Climate Programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, shortly after the announcement. "Continuing obstructionism by the Senate Republican leadership, joined by a handful of Democratic senators, is still blocking the way forward."
"It is time for all of us to make our voices heard. Over the recess we must deliver a message to senators: 'Do your job! We face a triple threat of a stagnant economy, ballooning energy insecurity, and a climate that is coming apart," Hawkins added. "Don't fail us. Don't fail our children. Don't come home again without having tackled these real and present dangers.'"
"There will be an extra hot place in the hell of global warming," David Doniger, NRDC's Climate Center Policy Director, added, "for the people responsible for blocking sensible climate and energy legislation."
"It is beyond comprehension," Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said of the Reid legislation's failure to include a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) requiring U.S. utilities to obtain a portion of their power from renewable sources. "A refusal to pass a RES is an attack on every American worker and consumer."
Anticipating criticism of the Obama Administration for the failure to move forward with more meaningful legislation, Carol Browner, the Director of the White House Office of Energy & Climate Change Policy, said the administration had already taken "unprecedented steps" to address renewable energy and climate change through the Recovery Act's provisions and through stronger vehicle emissions standards. "We will continue to use our existing tools to address these problems," she added, perhaps a reminder and veiled threat to energy and climate legislation opponents that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still has the legal authority to attack GHGs if Congress remains gridlocked.
Reid said he is committed to bringing the limited legislation, each provision of which he called "bipartisan," to the floor before the current session ends. "This is what we can do now."
On the provision to support the shifting of the heavy transport fleet to CNG, he said "the one thing on which Gore and Pickens agree is that we need a bridge to move to renewable energy. They agreed on batteries and natural gas." He said the stimulus bill provided for battery technology advancement.
"There are six million 18-wheelers driving around our country today," Reid said."This legislation allows the conversion of those trucks from diesel fuel to natural gas. This will lessen our dependence on foreign oil."
Defending the home retrofit provision, Reid pointed out that the HomeStar program would "increase employment in every state in the Union by a significant amount. With the money we have with HomeStar, we're talking about as many as 350,000 or 400,000 jobs."