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March 28, 2015

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The great potential and risk in Reid’s big, bold, green push

Beyond the Sun

Here’s a strategy for either great success or a political flop: Assemble some of the best and brightest thinkers on a policy issue, ask for their legislative wish lists and tell them you will deliver.

That is essentially what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did at an energy policy forum here Tuesday — the latest episode in his increasingly high-stakes goal of pushing the country toward a new energy future.

Reid has asserted himself on energy issues since becoming majority leader two years ago, putting his political capital on the line in Nevada and nationally in a way that is raising expectations for a green revolution.

With President-elect Barack Obama talking about vast investment in the “energy economy” and expanded Democratic majorities in Congress, clean energy advocates say the time to deliver is now.

One participant at the forum said Washington has just a two-year window of political good will to show results. Others said the window will be open only a year. The Democratic majority in Congress is not likely to get any bigger than it is now. And by early 2010, the midterm congressional campaign season will be under way.

So the pressure is on Reid.

“He has got to produce — and he knows that,” said Matthew Bennett, executive director of Third Way, a Washington think thank that hosted Reid’s policy forum on Tuesday.

The event drew three dozen leaders from across the energy spectrum — labor leaders, utility companies, oil and gas industry representatives, environmentalists, academics, and wind and solar energy producers. Energy advisers to Obama participated, as did Nevadans.

Participants discussed investment in green energy to create new jobs; a national requirement on the amount of renewable energy each state must use, as is the law in Nevada, and a cap on carbon emissions that cause climate change.

Many believe the promised $400 billion economic stimulus package, the first order of business for Obama and the new Congress in January, will include a hefty amount of public spending and tax breaks for green energy.

Reid said he could envision as much as $100 billion of that package going toward energy.

“For me, that would certainly be appropriate,” Reid said. “With the new president and Congress we have a great opportunity to abandon the baby steps and embrace some giant leaps forward.”

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Reid, like Obama, is doing well in pushing the nexus between energy, the economy and national security.

“No one has done more than Leader Reid to really highlight and raise the profile of that vision,” he said.

Yet Reid’s prominence on energy issues is not without risk nationally and in Nevada, where his views have detractors who could give him political problems as he heads toward his own reelection in 2010.

Reid convened a high-profile energy summit this summer in Nevada, drawing in former President Bill Clinton, oilman-turned-windman T. Boone Pickens and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss such issues.

A few weeks later he gave a purposely partisan, prime-time speech on energy at the Democratic National Convention. His opposition to four proposed coal-fired power plants in Nevada has touched off a divisive debate in the state particularly among rural residents who support the plants as potential jobs centers.

At one point, he became a YouTube sensation in a not-so-favorable-way when he declared, “Coal makes us sick.”

“The story in 2010 will be what did the new Congress, working with the new president, really get done,” Karpinski said. “That’s a challenge, but it’s an opportunity.”

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