A renewed debate over energy (that probably won’t go well)

A RENEWED DEBATE OVER ENERGY (THAT PROBABLY WON’T GO WELL)…. On the Senate floor Monday night, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) made a comment that actually seemed quite encouraging, at least initially. He asked, “Isn’t it a little foolish to have our economy held hostage by events in Libya, North Africa generally, or the Persian Gulf area?”

Why yes, Chuck, it is. Democrats have been saying this for quite some time, and President Obama has spent the last several years pushing measures to wean the United States from its dependence on foreign oil. Indeed, energy independence as been near the top of the Democratic policy agenda for a long while.

The problem, of course, is what Grassley said next: “The Obama administration needs to put an end to the existing policy of a de facto moratorium through permitting.”

Yes, I regret to report that we’re back to the mind-numbing drill-baby-drill nonsense. As oil prices rise, Republicans have recommitted themselves to trying to solve the nation’s energy problems by handing out drilling licenses like candy on Halloween.

Jed Lewison did a nice job setting the record straight.

Despite the GOP attacks, the administration actually is continuing to pursue offshore drilling and exploration as a component of their energy policy. A little over a week ago, it issued the first permit for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico since the BP disaster. You’d think the “drill, baby, drill!” crowd would be happy, but no amount of drilling will ever satisfy them. (And no amount of drilling will be able to solve our energy challenges.)

The truth is, the GOP doesn’t have a serious energy policy. It only has a pro-oil policy. We saw that last month when they unanimously voted against ending subsidies for big oil. And we saw it when they voted to cut research funding for renewable energy.

That last point is of particular interest. Congressional Republicans agree that it’s foolish for the U.S. to be “held hostage by events” in the Middle East, but at the exact same time, disagree with investments in alternative forms of energy. In other words, if the policy isn’t exclusively about drilling, the GOP just doesn’t seem interested.

For what it’s worth, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said yesterday she hopes to restart bipartisan talks on a comprehensive energy bill, using rising oil prices as an impetus. “We have a new situation here with Libya and gas prices going up to at least look at some type of ‘American Energy Standard’ to encourage more renewables, nuclear, clean coal, everything,” she explained.

So far, no one from the Senate GOP caucus has agreed to participate, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who played a role in related talks last year, suggested a bipartisan “gang” to talk about energy is “likely to recreate itself.”

It’s best to keep expectations very low — even if the Senate made progress, the GOP-run House of Representatives still exists — but it’s nevertheless something to keep an eye on.