THEGREENGROK

On the Climate Bill Fence: Why Sen. Bayh Jumped On


by Bill Chameides | July 30th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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The fourth in a series on what senators on the fence are thinking.

There’s been a flurry of movement around the Senate’s climate bill fence, including a probable “yea” that jumped to the undecided camp. That new fence-sitter, a Dem from Indiana, is our focus for today.

Last week, according to E&E Daily, three senators who had been on the climate bill fence jumped off. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), just as we’d predicted, became a probable “nay,” as did his fellow Tennessean Sen. Bob Corker (R) and Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. And one probable “yea” jumped onto the fence. That new fence-sitter is Sen. Evan Bayh.

First a snapshot of his background. Bayh has been around politics his whole life. Born in Terra Haute, Indiana, in 1955 to former U.S. Senator Birch Evans Bayh, Evan Bayh grew up in the Beltway. Around age 30, he returned to the Hoosier State and was elected Indiana’s secretary of state. Two years later, at age 33, he became Indiana’s youngest governor. In 1992, the Wall Street Journal noted, “Mr. Bayh’s record so far is one of a genuinely fiscally conservative Democrat.” (Stephen Moore, “The Good Governor Guide,” February 5, 1992, Wall Street Journal) After two terms at the state’s helm, Bayh was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998.

Senators Sitting on the Climate Bill Fence Series
Lamar Alexander (R-TN) »
Evan Bayh (D-IN) »
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) »
Robert Casey (D-PA) »
Kent Conrad (D-ND) »
Byron Dorgan (D-ND) »
Russ Feingold (D-WI) »
Al Franken (D-MN) »
Lindsey Graham (R-SC) »
Tim Johnson (D-SD) »
Carl Levin (D-MI) »
Dick Lugar (R-IN) »
John McCain (R-AZ) »
Arlen Specter (D-PA) »
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) »

‘The Man to Watch’

When it comes to climate legislation in the Senate, politico.com called Bayh “the man to watch.” The reasons: Sen. Bayh sits on the important Energy and Natural Resources Committee and his position on the issue has been, shall we say, fluid?

Flash back to October 2003, and Bayh’s position was clear and decisive. He was among 43 senators who voted for the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.

Protecting Coal Interests?

But since then he has been back-pedaling. And much of that back-pedaling appears to have been motivated by a commitment to protect the coal industry in Indiana.

On the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2008, Bayh, along with nine Senate Democrats, signed a letter [pdf] of opposition to the bill. In the letter, his focus on how a green economy might negatively affect his fellow Hoosiers was apparent: the right bill, the missive to Sens. Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer indicated, must “also ensure consumers and workers in all regions of the U.S. are protected from undue hardship.”

Earlier this year, despite urging [pdf] from Hoosiers in the state legislature to support it, Bayh was the only Democrat to oppose the energy committee’s renewable electricity standard provision in the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (ACELA), S. 1462. His reasoning resounded with the same concerns expressed in March (see below) with regard to the cap-and-trade bill: the “renewable electricity standard … could disproportionately impact Indiana and other states that generate most of their energy from coal.”

Bayh went on to sponsor an amendment to ACELA that would give utilities a way out of tapping mandated renewable energy sources by paying a penalty fee. (The payments would go to state investments in clean energy projects.) As he told politico.com, if he is going to support initiatives that affect coal power, “it’s going to be things like that that I’m going to look at. 
Something that allows our state to deal with this change in a way that maximizes new job creation, minimizes job losses and makes it as easy as possible on the ratepayers.”

Passing a Climate Bill ‘in the Right Kind of Way’

Back in March, Bayh began to signal his concern with current climate legislation when speaking to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Hardball:


Sen. Bayh on MSNBC’s Hardcopy

“If you don’t do that in the right kind of way, you run the risk of sending jobs in places like your [Matthews’s] home state of Pennsylvania or mine of Indiana to other countries that have lower emissions standards, so the irony would be we’d lose jobs and not help with global warming.”

“It affects so many states economically that if you don’t do it in the right kind of way, you’re taking money from carbon-intensive states like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and redistributing it to California, New York. That’s just a very hard sell to our people at a time when they’re hurting. And you also run the risk of taking jobs away and not actually solving global warming.”

He qualified his concerns, saying, “Although I think we can still get it done.” But then he reiterated a sticking point, ending on a less optimistic note: “You’ve got to handle it in such a way that will save jobs, actually solve global warming and not suck money out of carbon-intensive states and redistribute it to less carbon-intensive states, so less likely to use reconciliation on that one.”

Last month Sen. Bayh introduced S. 1191, a bill requiring the Secretary of Energy to prepare a report on climate change and energy policy in the People’s Republic of China and in the Republic of India. No co-sponsors so far.

Yeah, Bayh is at least a fence-sitter, maybe not even that.

An Election Coming Up in 2010

But it would appear that Bayh’s fence-sitting isn’t sparked by fiscal conservatism but by a simple commitment to protecting coal interests in the state of Indiana. In fairness, Bayh is up for reelection in 2010 and the first rule of politics in the modern-day U.S. Congress is to get reelected — why should he act differently from his compatriots? And his dedication to coal could be motivated by a desire to protect the economic interests of the citizens of Indiana.

But it is also perhaps relevant to note that according to politico.com, by 2008 Bayh had received “big money from Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world.” How big? $54,800 big, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. And over Bayh’s career in the Senate, again according to The Center for Responsive Politics, energy and natural resource companies have directed $574,696 Bayh’s way.

Of course the amount of money Sen. Bayh has received from the coal industry is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of money the industry plans to expend to influence (or scuttle?) climate legislation. According to a study by the Center for Public Integrity:

“More than 770 companies and organizations hired some 2,340 lobbyists to work on climate change and spent at least $90 million lobbying in 2008. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity — a group of 48 companies — topped the list of those solely focused on the issue, spending $9.95 million.”

As I have asked before — isn’t politics great?

filed under: climate bill fence, climate change, energy, faculty, global warming, policy, politics
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10 Comments

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  1. Deborah
    Aug 11, 2009

    It’s not surprising Arlen Specter, Lamar Alexander, and John McCain are “on the fence” with regard to the climate bill. In an article by Stacy Morford of Solve Climate (10 Senators to Watch as Electric Utilities Up the Ante (http://solveclimate.com/blog/20090805/10-senators-watch-electric-utilities-ante)), Specter, McCain, and Bayh have reportedly been the recipients of campaign contributions from utility companies in the amounts of $22,499, $709,391, and $42,550, respectively. Both Bayh and Specter’s contributions reported are for the 2009-2010 election cycle. The reported contributions with regard to McCain, are over a period of time dating back to the election cycles between 1990-to current date.

  2. Chris Hagin
    Jul 31, 2009

    I find Senator Bayh’s cautious approach to the current climate legislation both wise and prudent. He has a vested interest in ensuring no meddling by Congress unduly increases energy costs in his home state of Indiana. Why? because Indiana uses the most coal out of the entire country for its energy needs apart from Texas (EIA statistics, 2007). Since coal power is a lot cheaper to produce and transport than any of the alternatives, it is little surprise that an Indiana senator would be hesitant to make a career-ending move and vote to destroy his state’s energy economy.

    • Bill Chameides
      Aug 3, 2009

      Chris, Maybe so. But some might argue that it is attitudes like that among our Congressmen and Congresswomen that are crippling this country’s ability to compete in the global market. As we continue to rely on coal, other nations are eating our lunch in the development of new low-carbon technologies, the technologies that will provide the economic engine for progress in the coming century.

      • Dan K.
        Aug 4, 2009

        If we look at it truly holistically, our economic system today does not account for the pollution, global climate change affects, health problems and deaths from coal plants. If such externalities, as economists call them, are internalized into the price of these plants, than you will see that their ‘true’ cost is much more than what we pay for now. Now, how that would be addressed is a difficult issue but nonetheless it is easy to understand logically that right now that cost is subsidized in a way – call coal plants welfare queens, you may, if we prefer the inane political rhetoric of our times. Your point is well taken, but this is something that cannot wait and only gets costlier the longer we wait. Just like in a good healthcare system, prevent the disease so you don’t have to treat it later.

        • Don Schroeder
          Aug 4, 2009

          It is probably true that the true costs of coal production such as pollution, deaths, future health risks and global warming should be considered in the cost of coal. But, the same is true for green energy. Just because the technology is “new” doesn’t mean it may not have negative effects. The toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of batteries could be a big environmental problem when they are distributed all over the world. The number of deaths of birds caused by wind turbines. The human deaths that occur in the manufacture/maintenance of the new “green” technologies is probably not zero. I think it is a big mistake to think that all “green” technologies will only have positive economic, health, and environmental attributes.

          • Dan K.
            Aug 4, 2009

            If we talk about a correct and fair system of capitalism, it’s something that cannot be avoided, I believe. Congressional folk say that renewables are expensive, but the talk about coal or nuclear power is as if the true, full cost of them are included in the discussion. No, they are indeed ‘subsidized’ in a way. In my comments, I did not want to give the impression that that is what I thought, which it is not. Of course, there are negative effects of ‘green’ technologies (though I hate that term, it’s overused and too simplified). But if you look at the life cycle analysis of environmentally better technologies, solar PV has a ‘payback’ period of a few years, wind even shorter. And no emissions throughout its lifetime, essentially, water use (in these two cases, at least) and so on. Yes, bird become victims to turbines, but there are smart people developing some sort of radar or the like that can be placed near such structures to divert birds along their migratory paths or what have you. Read about that recently. In any case, these better technologies are indeed better because of these positive effects too (unlike CCS, it seems). Better than coal, better than nuclear, which is a pretty accurate excerpt:encoded. I recommend reading Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson’s LCA work on this topic, which is very good. We can’t deceive ourselves, even though this is a cultural thing, that we can get something for nothing. But that ‘something’ can be pennies on the dollar now compared to doing it at a later time. The time to act is now.

          • Bill Chameides
            Aug 5, 2009

            Don, The overall environmental impact of renewables relative to fossil fuels looks to be much less. See this National Academy report: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12619

        • Bill Chameides
          Aug 7, 2009

          Dan, I agree entirely. Many economists argue that the solution is to internalize the costs of the pollution through a tax or a cap and trade, and then let market forces do the rest.

          • Chris Hagin
            Aug 8, 2009

            It would be an economic injustice to artificially raise the price of energy based on assumed environmental ‘costs’ of burning fossil fuels. We need a frank and detailed discussion of these supposed ‘costs’ before jumping into the trap of enacting legislation that may only provide more expensive energy with marginal environmental improvements. Yes, we need to incorporate alternative energy sources into our power grid, but we need to do it prudently and incrementally so that the US energy economy isn’t crippled from inflexible government statutes. Coal will dominate the US energy landscape so long at it is plentiful, cheap, and safe to produce and mine.

            • Bill Chameides
              Aug 18, 2009

              Chris, There has already been a frank and detailed discussion of the ‘costs’ of inaction on climate change.

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