Reid Energy Bill: No $ for Transit, Billions for Electric and Natural Gas Cars

It seems that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not only given up on a carbon cap in this year’s energy bill, but also ruled out provisions promoting transit and smart growth. In Reid's effort to pass an energy bill this year, even a weak bill, advocates say that chances to include major transportation reforms don’t look promising.

harry_reid_rotunda2.jpgSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Photo: LV City Life
A large part of the bill Reid introduced yesterday, officially known as the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act of 2010 [PDF] is devoted to oil spill cleanup. The only section that mentions transportation encourages the expansion of plug-in electric and natural gas vehicles, with billions of dollars in incentives for consumers and federal and commercial fleets. Neither of those methods of personal transportation do enough to address the core goals of averting catastrophic climate change and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The batteries in electric vehicles are often powered by coal, and natural gas is a finite resource.

What happened to the idea of including language to support smart growth and invest in transit? After Reid said last week that the Democrats didn’t have the votes for a comprehensive energy bill, advocates expected a watered-down version. But some still hoped for a chance to offer amendments drawn from the Oil Independence Bill introduced by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and others last month.

Transit advocates are less sanguine now. “It seems likely that Senator Reid will probably not allow amendments to the bill,” said Smart Growth America policy associate Stephanie Potts. “We’ll wait and see.”

Her comment was echoed by Colin Peppard, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s deputy director of federal transportation policy. “It’s a pretty limited package,” he said. “It seems like the opportunity for moving something broader and more meaningful has been closed off for the time being.”

But “there are still plenty of opportunities” to introduce legislation for transit support this year, said Peppard. “It’s a full schedule, but it’s our job to put pressure on” Congress for those issues.

Merkley’s spokesman Mike Westling hedged his bets. “I’m sure it’s something we’ll look at,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

A source on Capitol Hill said the likelihood is low that transit provisions will make the final cut in the energy bill, because Reid wants to get it passed before Congress leaves for its August recess. But Merkley and Delaware Senator Tom Carper are still hoping to push elements of the CLEAN TEA legislation -- which tied climate goals to smarter transportation and land use planning -- perhaps as part of the eventual overhaul of the national transportation bill.