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First Up for the Lame Duck? Repaying Politcal Favors

November 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

When I posted a link on Twitter on Facebook yesterday to the first bill scheduled for a vote in the Senate lame duck session — the Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act of 2010 — people asked a good question: why, given the time restraints and all the important issues that need to be dealt with, is this bill getting the first vote?

One possible answer is that the vote is part of a straight-up quid pro quo (via an Oct. 6 piece from subscription-only Roll Call):

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens said Wednesday he thinks that Sen. Harry Reid will be able to move an alternative fuels subsidy bill in a lame-duck session in part because of Pickens’ promise not to make campaign contributions this cycle.

In an interview with reporters, Pickens, who was once a prominent Republican fundraiser, said he has pledged not to make federal campaign donations.

…further down in the article, Reid’s spokesman is quoted as saying, “there is absolutely no trade-off here.” Uh huh.

Pickens has given millions to Republicans. In 2004, he spent $4.6 million on Republican 527s, and he has campaigned for and donated to Republican candidates in 2006 and 2008. Wikipedia has an overview of his political activities, and, of course, you can get much more detailed information at OpenSecrets. Having Pickens out of the political fundraising game is clearly a benefit for the Democrats. Although this isn’t a case of money for legislation, there is no practical difference between Pickens giving money to the Democrats and Pickens witholding money from the Republicans to whom he he has always given reliably.

So what does Pickens get from the deal? Pickens owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which describes itself as “the leading provider of natural gas fuel of transportation in America.” The $4.5 billion in subsidies for natural gas vehicles in the bill will probably provide a stimulus for Pickens’ company more than any other company or individual.

This bill is being pushed in the lame duck session at the same time that other more significant energy reforms, like a tougher renewable energy standard for utilities, are being dropped from the lame duck docket. Many environmentalists consider the bill’s goal of expanding natural gas usage in vehicles to be an insufficient and ineffective response to the U.S. energy situation. “While perhaps developed with lofty intentions, moving past bumper stickers shows that this legislation would not provide any serious movement forward to end America’s fossil-fuelish (e.g, foolish) energy system and likely would end up being counter-productive to movement forward toward a sustainable energy future,” writes environmental blogger Adam Siegal.

It’s unclear whether or not the bill will overcome cloture when the vote happens on Nov. 17. Who knows, maybe the Dems even want it to fail so they can get an arrangement like this with Pickens in the 2012 cycle.

Reid and Pickens are pictured above.

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