As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bargaining For One More Positive Balance Sheet

We have a combination energy/environmental crisis going on. Gas prices are so high that people are working to fill up the fuel tank, paying as much as a quarter of their income on transportation. The Antarctic ice sheets are collapsing and falling into the ocean on what seems like a daily basis. The current energy infrastructure is unsustainable from a financial, military and environmental perspective. And yet we're seeing freshman Democratic members of Congress quite literally being bribed to maintain the status quo.

Moderate House Democrats -- even freshmen with little obvious influence -- have seen a surge of campaign contributions from the energy industry, whose giving patterns have long favored Republicans.

Data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics show the overall industry and individual energy companies giving a larger percentage now to Democrats than they have in a decade. Though powerful committee chairman are seeing a major share of those new industry dollars, a large portion is also flowing to rank-and-file lawmakers who have agreed with the industry on some key issues [...]

[T]here is no denying the importance of moderate Democrats. They have already left their marks on pivotal debates, forcing party leaders to scale back legislative proposals on the renewable electricity standard, fuel economy and oil leasing [...]

Last year, Blue Dog PAC -- which distributes money to group members and other moderate candidates -- received $96,000 from electric utilities, oil-and-gas companies and energy industry groups, according to Federal Election Commission figures.

As long as the energy industry can pick off enough Bush Dogs, they can keep a working conservative majority on these issues and defer the eventual breakdown of their profit margins. Obama and Clinton both have decent enough energy plans but even they have been touting "clean coal" as they hit a series of coal-producing states in the primaries. And even potential incoming members of Congress are being bought off by big energy interests during their stays in state legislatures. Here's a report from someone who's unbought and unbossed, US Senate candidate from North Carolina Jim Neal:

I was surprised and frankly shocked while reading Greensboro’s Yes Weekly article about State Senator Kay Hagan.

Kay points to Senate Bill 3 (SB 3) as an example of how “we do things right in Raleigh.” The legislation adopted by the state senate last year gives away the store to Duke Energy, one of the top contributors to Kay’s state senate campaigns .

You may not know about SB 3. And the problem is I don’t think you’re supposed to. The Raleigh News-Observer says SB 3 was “an insiders' deal from the get-go,” passed with “virtually nonexistent” public debate and no “serious financial analysis of its total impact on consumers.”

SB 3 shifts the cost of building new power plants from industry to consumers. Duke will be allowed to bill consumers for the costs of building new power plants - before the plants produce even a single watt of electricity. Instead of borrowing money to build power plants, Duke Energy and Progress will charge you more on next month’s bill. This fundamentally changes the law and how the utilities do business in North Carolina.

Only by strengthening and growing the progressive movement and winning primary races such as this one in North Carolina are we going to break this stranglehold that's choking off our ability to move meaningfully on mitigating the impact of climate change. Public mass transit has to be a part of that solution. Here in California it looks like high speed rail will finally get an opportunity on the state ballot. Private investors will be involved, but if they want to be part of the solution rather than the problem I'm OK with it. We're not going to stop industry from bargaining for one more positive balance sheet, but if they're incentivized to work toward solutions that are profitable and sensible for our energy and environmental future, there can be a pleasant compromise that expands the economy as a side benefit.

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