Tuesday, July 01, 2008

How the Senate Republicans Screwed Michigan Once Again

Finally! We have a major media outlet pointing out just what the Senate Republicans did with the energy package last Friday.

Hold on to your light switches. The state Senate, in the late hours of Friday night, passed about the worst possible combination of utility bills imaginable.

First, the Senate stripped virtually all meaning out of a bill calling for a minimum amount of renewable energy and a program to promote energy efficiency. Then senators passed a bill reregulating the state's utilities, allowing their competition never to exceed 10% of the market.

There are several good reasons to allow utilities to return to regulation -- chief among them, the need to ensure that the state has adequate power supplies and does not become overly dependent on volatile national energy markets.

But another huge reason for reregulation is the ability of the state to chart its own destiny in the use of renewable power and energy efficiency programs. Without strong steps in that direction, reregulation becomes not just less attractive but almost meaningless. Upfront help with efficiency measures, particularly, will be the primary defense householders and small businesses have against rising energy prices.

It's also worth pointing out exactly how this all went down, because it's the very same pattern we saw last year with the budget battle(s). The Senate will stall until the very last minute, and then they take the legislation before them and totally screw it up. They don't talk to the House about the changes they intend on making when they know those changes will never fly, they pass it all in the dead of night when no one is looking, and then they quickly pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The short-staffed traditional media doesn't get the chance to cover it in-depth because of the rush job. What gets reported is "Legislature wraps up energy bill". Not to pick on Peter Luke who I adore - he focuses on yet another portion of this, the tax credits for Hemlock Semiconductor and the Choose Michigan Fund - but titles (which I doubt he writes) like that make "the public" think that everything is taken care of. Same thing with the AP, "Michigan Senate passes energy legislation", but, when you actually read these stories, you find out that they haven't solved anything at all.

First, let's revisit the MBT fiasco. We have established that the Senate Republicans are responsible for the problems with the surcharge on the MBT. They dallied until the very last minute on the night of the shutdown, creating the situation they now turn around and complain bitterly about, they vow to "fix" it - which turns into yet another time wasting opportunity that has lasted through this year. One anonymous Republican legislator even admitted to Phil Power that it was simply "brinkmanship" on the part of the the Republican leadership that led to the problems. And even though Republicans vowed to work with the House at the beginning of the year, their stall tactics and brinkmanship continue.

They have done the exact same thing with these energy bills. Friday afternoon, action on the package was reported to be dead for the day.

Energy regulation legislation sparked and temporarily shorted out, but then was regenerated and passed during a late night session in the Senate on Friday.

MIRS reports "rumors" that there was to be negotiations with the House on the package - but obviously not, because what they passed will never get through the House or the governor. The Senate totally gutted the portions of the package that would have brought Michigan job creation/investment in alternative energy and saved consumers money through efficiency programs. Here's Andy-

However, he said the RPS and energy efficiency standards in the Senate version are "nowhere near acceptable," and will not likely find support in the House or with the governor.

Not only that - they weakened what we currently have going now.

The chamber barely passed a bill, SB 213 , calling for a 7 percent renewal portfolio standard by 2015, but Democrats said the measure will actually result in less electricity created by renewable methods because the 7 percent standard includes energy conservation and will only require that 4 percent of electricity is generated by renewable sources, less than the 5 percent standard now in place.

So what have we accomplished here? Nothing. They made things worse. They passed a renewable portfolio standard that is a complete joke. They gutted efficiency standards that would have saved us money with lower energy bills. They claim they are "protecting the consumer" - but what they actually did was deny us job creation in a business that is exploding with growth, and they cost us more money in the long run because we will be stuck building new plants or buying expensive out-of-state power anyway. And, it's all a complete waste of time, because it never flies with the House or governor.

The Freep calls them out, but will anyone else pick up on this?

Michigan has begun to look like a backwater for not insisting on a better mix of energy supplies and efficiency programs. The House, after many months of study, passed an energy package that is weak but at least starts to move the state forward. There is almost no room for compromise with the abysmal version that the Senate passed.

Consumers have every reason to be outraged, as they appear to have been the last thing on many senators' minds. So as you're flicking on a light -- or the television or the air-conditioner -- you might want to remember that you shouldn't take your power, at home or at the ballot box, for granted.

More of this please. We need the traditional media to point out exactly what happens in our Legislature. This has been the Republican game for quite some time - and they actually admit to it - but yet blame for this will continue to fall on both parties equally.

Time for that to stop. If Michigan has any hope of moving forward, it must be brought to the public’s attention exactly who is obstructing our progress.