Merkley hopes to put his stamp on energy policy

Sen. Jeff Merkley has positioned himself to play a potentially pivotal role on clean-energy legislation that Senate Democrats hope to consider this summer.

The caucus will meet privately today to consider what course to take to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, which environmentalists say is having a global impact on the climate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants a clean-energy bill to pass this summer, but a clear consensus has not emerged about what to do.

The House approved sweeping climate-change legislation a year ago that would regulate industrial carbon dioxide emissions. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have co-authored similar “cap-and-trade” legislation but acknowledge that they don’t have the votes to pass it.

The Senate Energy Committee has proposed an alternative that provides industry incentives to promote alternative energy use, but environmental advocates say it does too little.
Enter Merkley.

The Oregon Democrat on Monday unveiled an aggressive energy conservation plan that he claims would allow the U.S. to wean itself off foreign oil in two decades. The plan relies heavily on boosting electric cars and mass transit.

“Certainly this will be a very significant caucus, and hopefully we will have the caucus come together around a more aggressive efficiency strategy,” Merkley said.

Merkley unveiled his plan during a speech at the Center for American Progress, saying it would save 8.3 million barrels of oil per day — more than the 7 million barrels that the U.S. imports daily from overseas.

On Tuesday, Merkley hosted a press conference in the Capitol, where the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released a report calling on senators to consider aggressive energy efficiencies in whatever energy bill they consider.

“If they really juice up and expand efficiency, we can get real benefits,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of the council.