Massachusetts and New England are positioned to play a pivotal role in the future of comprehensive energy and climate legislation. The New England representatives that are leaders in the Congress for this legislation have made clear that it is a compelling national interest to address this challenge, but they also clearly recognize the importance of this legislation to the states and the region they represent. If each of the region’s Senators demonstrated the same leadership, the legislation would stand a good chance of passing. The region’s four Republican Senators are the key to making that happen.
- Ed Markey, the Dean of the Massachusetts delegation and the Chair of the House Select Committee on Global Warming, led the four-month effort that resulted in the passage of ACESA, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, in May, 2009. (It should be noted that Ed Markey is no stranger to the complex legislative issues around innovation on a national scale – he was a forceful and well-respected legislative leader for the telecommunication and Internet revolutions.)
- John Kerry and Joe Lieberman were the authors and sponsors of the American Power Act, the core legislation underpinning comprehensive energy and climate change legislation.
- John Kerry has been the public face and the leader of the effort to move legislation through the Senate. He has a long record of engagement on environmental, military and Veterans issues, each of which represents a key argument and constituency for this legislation.
The regional imperative
Innovation has driven the growth of the American economy since the end of World War II. The universities and research labs of Massachusetts were the primary source of that innovation in the early years. Venture Capital as we now know it began in Massachusetts. While innovation has spread throughout the country, and the San Francisco Bay Area and Massachusetts engage in a mostly-friendly rivalry for perceived leadership, the fact remains that for Massachusetts and much of New England, innovation and technology are responsible for much of the economic prosperity in the region.
Renewable energy and clean technology is the next great wave of innovation, and the regions and countries that lead in creating, developing and deploying that innovation will reap the economic benefits. Comprehensive energy and climate legislation creates policy certainty that will drive the development of that market in the US. A local market is a key to successful and continued leadership in innovation.
Massachusetts and New England have no fossil fuel reserves. Like Japan, another economy that created wealth from technology and innovation, the region is almost completely dependent on imported energy. The continued reliance on fossil fuels drains wealth from the region, just as the country’s dependence imported oil drains wealth from the US – $1 billion each day. There is little reason for New England’s Senators to support the interests of the fossil fuel industry.
Just those two powerful economic imperatives should be enough to ensure that any elected representative of this region be solidly behind moving away from fossil fuels and toward a new energy economy.
It’s a whip’s job to count votes, and for complex legislation with such a wide impact, the job is especially challenging. Add the constant stream of changes and compromises, and it becomes harder, and can change daily.
But one thing doesn’t change – the number of Senators. The six states of New England have 12 votes in the US Senate. Even at a time when “60 is the new 50”, that represents 20% of the total needed to pass legislation (and, should there be an opportunity to go back to the old math, that’s just shy of 25%). Add a few states that share some of New England’s positioning (innovation, support for environmental and energy leadership, progressive policy positions and/or dependence on energy imports) like New York, California, Washington and Oregon – and you reach 20 states and 40 Senators.
In that mix, the role of the four Republican Senators in New England becomes critical. All four – Judd Gregg (NH), Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME) and Scott Brown (MA) have either demonstrated or espoused non-partisanship and willingness to cross party lines. They can do so for philosophical reasons, but surely the interests of the states they are elected to represent should be a compelling reason to do so by itself?
Participants in the Clean Energy fly-in met with Senator Gregg and members of Senator Brown’s staff.
- A primary concern heard from Senator Gregg was the short time available to pass legislation. The House was able to go from a standing start to passage of comprehensive legislation in four months. Surely, even allowing for the Senate’s deliberat(iv)e pace, one to two months should suffice to come up with companion legislation, given that the House already worked through many of the necessary compromises.
- Senator Brown’s staff did not disagree with many of the arguments for legislation – and even expressed support for some. Their strongest expressed interest was in nuclear energy. The American Power Act includes a significant role for nuclear. That should provide an open door for discussion, though the staff was non-committal when asked.