Technology Ten Grows to Sixteen Members, Set to Take Charge of Climate Legislation in 2009

October 9, 2008 | Jesse Jenkins,

A group of moderate Senate Democrats are joining forces to take the lead in climate legislation next year. We originally dubbed the group the "Technology Ten" in June, when the centrist Democrats sent a letter (pdf) to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer indicating their reservations about the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act that had just been voted down on the Senate floor.

The groups' concerns revolved around the effect of expansive climate change legislation on energy prices, and hence on energy consumers, businesses and manufacturing and the letter centered around the need for stronger cost-containment measures and greater investment in technology innovation and deployment -- hence the moniker "Technology Ten." That group has now grown to include sixteen Democratic senators, and they are redoubling their efforts to take charge of the global warming debate next year, according to a recent article in E&E Daily (via Climate Progress; $ubs required for E&E Daily).

Given the fact that the new gang of senators represents almost one third of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, the "Technology Sixteen" will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming year.

In the six months since the death of Lieberman-Warner, the ten original members of the group -- Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin of Michigan, John Rockefeller of West Virginia, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jim Webb of Virginia, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- have been joined by a half-a-dozen more Democrats, including Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ken Salazar of Colorado.

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Staff from the Tech Sixteen have been meeting periodically to get a better grip on climate legislation and develop more concrete legislative proposals before the start of the 111th Congress next year. The group's members expect climate legislation may take a back seat to economic issues next year, they want to be prepared if climate policy resurfaces and ready to offer substantive proposals that Democratic leaders will be forced to listen to. While the group currently does not have a formal leader, likely candidates could emerge in the coming months, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman and Senators Brown, Rockefeller and Stabenow.

The group is apparently honing in on four main areas: the effects on international competition, technology development and deployment, cost containment provisions, and agricultural offsets. All that makes sense given these sixteen senators represent states with some of the most carbon-intensive electricity mixes in the country, many with indigenous coal, oil or gas mining industries and most home to heavy manufacturing and/or agricultural industries. Consider that, collectively, the Tech Sixteen have close ties to business, manufacturing, organized labor and agriculture, powerful interests with a strong stake in the results of climate legislation, and you get a clear picture of the senators' strong interest in controlling the climate policy debate.

The Tech Sixteen's ranks are likely to grow after the election if several Democratic candidates secure victory in hotly-contested, swing-state races and follow the moderate group's lead on climate issues, or if the group decides to extend membership across party lines. Likely Republican members of the group include Bob Corker of Tennessee, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and John Sununu of New Hampshire, although both Coleman and Sununu face tough re-election fights.

All this means that climate and clean energy advocates should be advised: climate legislation could be controlled by centrists in the 111th Congress.

Furthermore, anyone expecting the November election to deliver a larger Democratic majority and ensure the success of major climate legislation in 2009 should re-evaluate their assumptions. If or when climate legislation is resurrected in the next Congress, Senator Barbara Boxer of California and the other more liberal Democrats and their Green Group allies who led the charge for the Lieberman-Warner bill this summer will almost certainly face off against a strong coalition of Senators from their own party: the Tech Sixteen (or will it by Tech 20 or 25 by that point?).

Where things end up next year is anyone's guess, but we can and should assume that a stronger Democratic majority is simply not enough to secure easy passage of climate legislation. Given the growing strength of their informal coalition, the concerns of the Democrats in the Tech Sixteen cannot be ignored, and real, substantive issues around cost-containment, technology deployment and the effects of climate legislation on business and consumers are far from resolved in the halls of Congress.