Democrats Are Most Trusted on Energy Issues. So Why Can't They Get Their Act Together?


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A recent Washington Post/ABC poll reveals that the issue which Democrats are most trusted with is Energy Policy--by a long shot. The poll asked citizens this question: "Which political party, the (Democrats) or the (Republicans), do you trust to do a better job handling (Issue)?" And when "Energy Policy" was placed in the "Issue" box, 49% of respondents said that they trusted Democrats, while only 32% said they trusted Republicans. And the Democrats have drastic majorities in both the House and Senate, a president sympathetic to energy reform, and now, the wind at their backs after a major legislative victory in health care reform. So how come the Democrat-led proposals for energy reform is looking so, er, conservative?That's the question Josh Nelson poses in a fine piece over at EnviroKnow: why are Democrats cramming in so many distinctly Republican-looking provisions like expanding offshore drilling, adding nuclear entitlements? And why do they seem to be taking so many cues from the Republicans in policy making, too--ditching an economy-wide cap and trade, potentially nullifying the EPA's ability to regulate carbon?

Why are they making enough concessions to draw enough ire from many of the actual environmentalist members of the Democratic party? After all, 10 Dems just sent a letter to Harry Reid telling him they're out if there's too much offshore drilling allowed in the bill, and green stalwart Bernie Sanders was just forced to speak up, too.

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Image via Enviroknow

Nelson writes:

Of particular interest, Democrats hold the widest trust advantage (17%) on energy policy, followed by health care (13%), Afghanistan (10%) and the economy (8%). This finding echoes the results of recent Pew polling, which found that clean energy and mass transit investments are far more popular among the American public than nuclear investments and expanded offshore drilling. All of this strikes me as a pretty strong indictment of the Republican approach to energy policy, given the miles of separation between the parties on the issue. While Democrats support investing in clean energy technologies and implementing a strategy to reduce global warming pollution, most Republicans oppose such a strategy and are increasingly confused about the science. At the same time, beltway prognosticators continue celebrating the death of comprehensive climate legislation, despite its consistent popularity.
It should indeed be a strong indictment to Republican energy policy--show me an analyst who thinks Drill, Baby, Drill is adequate energy policy, and I'll show you a shill for big oil. And the American public doesn't buy it either--so, hooray, clean energy and high speed trains, right?

If only.

Health care reform had the benefit of having amendments pass through the Senate through the budget reconciliation process, which only required 51 votes--energy reform is going to require a filibuster-proof majority of 60. And with a slew of 'moderate' Dems holding fast in opposition to energy reform, conventional wisdom says that they're going to need at least 4 or 5 GOP votes. And for that, you're going to need . . . yup, some heavily GOP-friendly provisions. At least, that's how the reasoning looks to be playing out.

While I wholeheartedly agree with Nelson--America plainly wants more clean energy and less reliance on oil--the Senate system is currently structured such that a couple moderate Dems (I'm looking at you Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, and co) can obstruct the process if they deem that they're looking after Big Ag and Oil's, ahem, their constituents', best interests.

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