The House Republicans' new energy bill, a summary of which was put online on Wednesday, is designed to position the party as forward-looking on one of the most pressing matters facing the U.S. government. Heavy on developing new technologies and energy sources, the "American Energy Act" calls for, among other things, expanding nuclear energy, giving prize incentives for the sale of fuel-efficient cars, and requiring long-term contracts with private sector recycling companies.
It is designed, in short, to present the party as market-driven and innovative.
Not everyone is convinced. The progressive Media Matters Action Network has dug through the House GOP bill and found several cases -- on some fundamental energy topics -- in which current plan seems largely drawn from the ideas and legislation of the Bush administration.
For instance, the House GOP does little to distance itself from calls for drilling on the outer-continental shelf, a major component to Bush's approach and a hot-button campaign issue.
"The bill increases the supply of American energy by immediately moving forward with a leasing program on the already open [Outer Continental Shelf] OCS," a summary of the House Republicans' American Energy Act reads. "The bill also simplifies and harmonizes the OCS mileage restrictions, expanding state territorial waters to 12 miles offshore (most state borders stop at three miles) and gives coastal states a share of the receipts from such energy exploration."
In addition, the House GOP has called for the construction of more oil refineries, in part by urging the President "to designate at least three closed military installations as potentially suitable for construction of a refinery, including at least one suitable for refining biomass to produce biofuel."
President Bush made this a major component of his approach as well, declaring, in a July 2008 statement, that he wanted "to expand and enhance our refining capacity."
"Refineries are the critical link between crude oil and the gasoline and diesel fuel that drivers put in their tanks," he said at the time. "So today I am proposing measures to expedite the refinery permitting process... Congress should also empower the secretary of energy to establish binding deadlines for permit decisions and to ensure that the various levels of approval required in the refinery permitting process are handled in a timely way."
On other topics, as well, the House GOP's approach to energy legislation seems drawn from its former party leader. The GOP calls for opening up ANWR for additional drilling and the leasing of federal land for oil shale extraction -- both Bush administration staples. The two also call for the construction of more nuclear power plants through incentive-based approaches (the House GOP calls for "suspending import tariffs and duties on imported nuclear components for five years if there is no domestic manufacturer.")
It was, to be sure, a bit unreasonable to expect House Republicans to deviate wholeheartedly from the Bush administration's energy approach. The platform they have taken with regards to energy policy has, in many ways, defined their party for several decades. Moreover, energy was one of the few issues during the presidential campaign in which Obama and his aides genuinely sensed that they were vulnerable: Not so much on environmental matters, but on oil exploration. So this approach is not politically problematic for the GOP -- certainly not with gas prices set to rise this summer.
That said, any ties that can be drawn between the current party members and its widely unpopular former president aren't likely to be helpful for the GOP's cause. And the extent to which progressives can frame the upcoming energy debate as one between Bush's vision and Obama's, it is a victory. After all, voters had a choice in 2008 and made their preference abundantly clear.