U.S. CapitolCongress gets back to work this week. And according to Harry Reid (D-Nev.) it may get serious about setting a national clean energy goal.Photo courtesy Photo Phiend via FlickrIf you listen really, really hard, you might be able to detect a pulse for a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). Congress comes back to Washington this week and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says (I know, it’s not easy to believe Harry), it may actually get serious about setting a national clean energy goal. Of course, it probably wouldn’t happen until after the November elections when a few Republicans may be willing to actually vote “Yes” on something.

Standard obfuscating procedure: Even before then, though, green groups, hoping to salvage something out of this dismal Congress, will start pushing an RES revival. Two governors who are big boosters of wind energy, Iowa’s Chet Culver (D) and Rhode Island’s Don Carcieri (R), have fired an opening salvo with an op-ed piece in Politico. Members of Congress talk nonstop about creating jobs these days; Culver and Carcieri argue that an RES offers a great opportunity to do something about it. They write:

We all agree that creating jobs must be a national priority. We have reached a crucial moment in the renewable energy race. We are not likely to realize the job-creating potential of these technologies unless Congress passes legislation setting a robust minimum standard for the use of renewable electricity. More than one-half the states have passed — and proven the value of — a state-level RES. A federal renewable electricity standard could build on these examples, while giving states flexibility to set higher goals.

The big elephant in the room: But let’s face it. As David Roberts notes in a piece on the slim chance of a RES being passed this year, how likely is it that any Republicans will come around when not coming around has worked so well for them?

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I mean, in a period of 10 percent unemployment, the GOP fought against unemployment benefits. You think they won’t block an RES? They’re now arguing against R&D tax credits and infrastructure spending, two policies they have (rhetorically) supported for years. You think they won’t turn their back on an RES?

Chinese food for thought: While the U.S. is likely to stay stuck in neutral on clean energy, China is moving aggressively to stake its claim as a world leader in reducing greenhouse gases. It’s been shutting down polluting plants and ordering blackouts to meet emissions targets. Then again, China is now the world’s top energy hog, so it needs to be aggressive just to keep up with the boom in manufacturing plants and in the number of cars on its highways. Juliet Eilperin, writing in the Washington Post, reports on China’s mad scramble to keep pace with its exploding growth:

In the past several months, Chinese officials have intensified their focus, announcing they will replace outdated equipment in 2,000 power plants and spend $75 billion a year on clean energy technology, a figure triple the size of the Energy Department’s entire budget.

Gas money: Another volley in the battle over California’s Proposition 23 — Big Oil’s attempt to deep-six the state’s cutting-edge law on limiting greenhouse gases: A study by three enviro groups contends that the emissions law could save the average homeowner almost $700 a year by 2020 if the price of crude oil jumps again. Economists from Energy Independence Now, the Center for Resource Solutions, and the Environmental Defense Fund point out that over the past three decades, crude oil prices have shot up five times — as much as 179 percent in one year. Margot Roosevelt has the details in the Los Angeles Times Greenspace blog.

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Long distance stalling: On the flip side, attorneys general in at least four other states, some as far away as Alabama, are planning to challenge the California law on the grounds that it interferes with the right to freely conduct interstate commerce. Alabama, Nebraska, Texas, and North Dakota have joined together in shaping this attack strategy, based in part on the fact that California gets about 30 percent of its power from other states. Says North Dakota’s attorney general, Wayne Stenehjem:

We are going to test the limits of how much you can constrain interstate commerce in the name of climate change.

State of confusion: And here’s more silliness at the state level. Alaska has filed a suit to lift a “moratorium” against offshore drilling off the Alaskan coast. There’s just one complication: There is no moratorium. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has only stopped Shell from starting exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and cancelled four other Arctic leases until he’s convinced Shell could handle a major spill in such a hostile environment. How hostile? A World Wildlife Fund report mentions extreme storms, gale-force winds, sea ice, darkness, and subzero temperatures, all of which would “make it difficult, if not impossible to mount a robust response effort in the event of a major oil spill.” Energy Daily has more.

Sky anxiety: Good news! It’s not too late to avoid cataclysmic global warming. Well, technically, at least.  A new study in the journal Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology concludes that we haven’t yet reached the point of no return on greenhouse gases. If we don’t add any more cars or coal-fired power plants or factories, we can avoid reaching the tipping point. Lead researcher Steven Davis says his team figured out how much greenhouse gas would be produced by all the polluting devices already out there and came to the conclusion that the global temperature would increase by about 2.34 degrees F, not enough to wreak environmental havoc. But, as Davis points out, “there are things being built every day, and no real prospect that we’re going to restrict emissions from all of those things.”

He had to bring that up …