Showing his style of leadership, Obama voted in 2005 for the Bush-Cheney energy bill. loaded with tax breaks for big oil companies. According to Amanda Groscom Little in grist.org:
"Four years, two failed conference attempts, and one filibuster after the Republican leadership first introduced the Bush-backed energy bill into Congress, the controversial legislation is being signed into law today by the president, yielding a major victory for the White House -- and exposing Democrats' continued inability to rally around a unified vision and stay on message.
When House and Senate negotiators met to hammer out a compromise version of the bill in conference committee last month, it was predictably stripped of nearly all its environmentally ambitious provisions, including one requiring utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. What's left is a dizzying $14.5 billion in energy-industry subsidies, only about 20 percent of which will go to renewable-energy development.
As expected, the legislation has been trounced as pork at its worst by everyone from enviros to fiscal conservatives, even as it's been hailed by most energy-industry players and Republicans as an unqualified triumph. Less predictably, the bill garnered votes and accolades from a number of Senate Democrats.
Senate Energy Committee ranking member Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) beamed that the post-conference bill has "many more bright spots than flaws and deserves passage by the Senate and signature by the president."
Harder for progressives and enviros to swallow was the support it got from Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who expressed disappointment that the bill wasn't more bold but still went so far as to call the legislation "a first step toward decreasing America's dependence on foreign oil." It could more credibly be described as yet another step toward subsidizing Illinois corn farmers for ethanol production that will be of dubious environmental benefit.
Bingaman and Obama were far from alone: Over half of the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted for the bill. Most of these yea votes came from senators whose states stood to benefit markedly from the subsidies, while most of the nay votes were cast by senators from non-energy-producing states.
Critics argue that this split among Dems wasn't just a practical failure that gave way to shoddy energy policy; it was also a symbolic failure for the Democratic Party at large.
"The final language in the bill fell considerably short of the standards [Minority Leader Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] outlined as the Democratic plan for energy independence," said Ana Unruh Cohen, associate director for environmental policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
In May, Reid released a statement challenging the White House to produce a forward-looking energy policy. "Democrats remain fully committed to working to pass an energy bill that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil," he stated, and went on to outline the eight priorities that Dems would stand by: a renewable-electricity portfolio standard, a reduction of oil consumption by at least 1.75 million barrels of oil per day by 2015, electricity reliability standards, "strong energy-efficiency standards" for buildings and appliances, a "significant increase in homegrown biofuels," a "comprehensive" climate-change provision, production tax credits for geothermal, solar, wind, and biomass, and complete protection of existing environmental laws and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"Of this list, the Senate Dems got some bio-fuel provisions, a significantly scaled-down version of their energy-efficiency and production tax-credit requests, the electricity-reliability title, and they managed to fend off many of the encroachments on environmental laws," said Kevin Curtis, vice president of National Environmental Trust. "They lost everything else."