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

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?

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