Battle Over Clean Energy: Next Partisan Fight?

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Last year, Democrats proposed a slew of comprehensive energy and environmental legislations -- many of them crafted on a bipartisan basis -- but the issue was dwarfed by other big-ticket items like health care.

Energy and Environment the Next Big Partisan Fight?

The issue became a focal point of many heated debates in the mid-term elections, with Republicans -- and even some Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia -- campaigning against "cap and trade."

Experts say there is likely to be a mix of targeted efforts going forward, but whether they are successful in the current polarized political environment remains to be seen.

"I think it's safe to say that the preoccupation with spending reductions has swamped any other policy consideration for many House members," said Paul Bledsoe, former communications director of the White House Climate Change Task Force and currently director of strategy and communications at the National Commission of Energy Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Institute. "It may not be that they are constitutionally opposed to efforts to incentivize clean energy, but in the current budget dynamic they feel the need to essentially cut any spending they can."

Even though they may not be willing to reach as far as the president on clean energy reforms, there have been some signs that Republicans may not be completely resistant to such efforts.

For example, on Thursday the House voted against two amendments that would have cut an extra $70 million for efficiency and renewable funding for the Department of Energy, and another that would have slashed $50 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which conducts research on long-term technology. However, the continuing resolution does cut ARPA-E funding overall.

"The fact that the House did not zero out that funding indicates a recognition that clean energy future will be critical to U.S. competitiveness," Bledsoe said. "I do think there is a recognition by the Republicans that clean energy is going to be a whole new economic sector globally, and could be in the U.S., but its going to take some thoughtful policies to incubate it. I think there is that recognition there but the two sides haven't come together on the best policy approaches."

Republicans also have to iron out differences among themselves, because the impact of such policies vary from state to state. Lawmakers from California may be more inclined to promote clean energy than those from Texas and Oklahoma, home to big oil and gas companies.

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