At his keynote address to Netroots Nation last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was asked a question I had submitted (thanks, mcjoan!) about a key piece of energy policy: the renewable electricity standard. It’s right at the 30-minute mark in this video:



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(Yes, that’s me whooping at the end of the question.)

At 33:00, Reid gets to the point: “Right now, I don’t think I have 60 votes to get that done.” But what he says before that is something I’ve heard from several senators at the conference: it’s about time. There’s very little time left. The pieces Reid is getting through are pieces that he thinks will be uncontroversial. He’ll be able to close the amendment tree (prevent any amendments, that is) and go straight to a vote.

Reid can’t get an RES, not even the weak RES from Jeff Bingaman’s (D- N.M.) bill, through without allowing amendments. It’s too controversial for that. But if it’s open for amendment, Republicans can do what they’ve been doing on everything lately: offer a whole series of bogus “message amendments” (think: capital gains tax cuts) just to eat up time.

Perhaps if Reid put together a six-week effort he could get an RES through, but there are only six weeks left and there’s lots of other business to do. The Republicans are on the verge of successfully (if cravenly and maliciously) running out the clock.

That said! The RES isn’t being left for dead. A broad coalition of labor, green, clean energy industry, and utility groups sent a letter to Reid on Friday pushing for an RES, warning that “hundreds of thousands of future jobs in the clean energy sector could be lost and surrendered to other countries forever.” Also on Friday, two previous Senate majority leaders — Bob Dole and Tom Daschle, both now working with the wind industry — penned an op-ed in Politico arguing for an RES:

A renewable electricity standard will diversify our energy supply, reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce carbon emissions and save consumers money. It also can create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Also, and this is important:

We oppose the so-called Clean Energy Standard (CES) or Diverse Energy Standard (DES) proposed by some that would dilute this incentive by including non-renewable sources of energy like nuclear and coal.

(A standard that includes nuclear, “clean” coal, conversion to natural gas, or even plant retirements is what many conservatives want and one reason there’s expected to be a floor fight over this.)

I spoke with Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) at the conference and they insist they still plan to mount a push for the RES. It’s something the Senate’s freshman class is quite keen on.

It certainly would help if a few Republicans stepped forward and pledged to vote through a clean, ambitious RES. We all know that’s not going to happen, though. So we’ll just have to see if the Democratic leadership has any appetite at all for risk or conflict in service of salvaging jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.