New Democrats More Conservative, But Not on Energy, Environment

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Environmental leaders are banking on the 110th Congress to deliver a new energy future with policies that make a difference. Many are saying that the newly-elected Democrats are more moderate to conservative. However, Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust (NET), says their moderate views are really based on social hot button issues such as abortion and gay marriages. "These incoming moderates share the majority's views of strong values for conservation and environmental protection," Clapp said.

Watch for Democrats to quickly introduce legislation in the first days to deliver on a new energy future. Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, states that in general Democrats have been more willing to move away from foreign oil dependence. He sees legislation moving forward a little quicker under the new regime compared to Republicans control.

In the Democrats' "A New Direction for America" proposal, presumed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi outlines that Democrats support "increased production of alternate fuels from America's heartland, including biofuels, geothermal, clean coal, fuels cells, solar and win; promote hybrid and flex fuel vehicle technology and manufacturing; and enhance energy efficiency and conservation incentives."

Pelosi also sees the energy title of the farm bill as a way to increase urban support needed to support the farm bill.

According to a report put together by the NET, The Freshman Class of the 110th Congress: Many Are Green on the Inside, over a dozen new lawmakers endorsed higher fuel economy standards.

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group and critic of current farm programs, states that although his organization has been a supporter of ethanol, "putting more and more corn-based ethanol into gas guzzling SUVs" doesn't address the nation's energy problems. Instead, more research needs to be done on expanding ethanol production with other feedstocks.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., as the new leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees will continue to fiercely advocate building the biofuels industry. Both are Midwesterners from states with strong renewable energy resources and large farm-based economies. In contrast, the current Republican leaders are both from southern states. The EnvironmentalLaw & PolicyCenter expects to see the following impacts in the next energy title of the farm bill:

  • Expanding clean energy development programs for fuels and power, especially through the Section 9006 renewable energy and energy efficiency program;
  • More interest in energy crop production for advanced biofuel production, potentially through WTO-friendly incentive payment programs;
  • Building farmer equity and local ownership in clean energy development projects.

For a full look at ELPC's expectations, read the summary memorandum (PDF format) analysis of the election impacts on development of the energy title in the next farm bill.

On Monday, November 13, environmental leaders hosted a teleconference call to offer a look ahead at their priorities in next year's vastly different Congress. Topics included energy, global warming, the farm bill, conserving national forests, parks and other public lands, and protecting endangered species. Listen to the briefing by clicking here.

How do you think the switch will impact energy legislation? Let me know what you think by entering your comments in the box below.

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