WASHINGTON—With members of Congress up to their armpits in acrimony on Capitol Hill, Sen. Bernie Sanders figures bipartisanship isn't enough to advance ideas anymore.
So he is trying a broadened approach to lift legislators out of that muddled morass: tripartisanship.
The adept Vermont independent has lured New Mexico Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman into co-sponsoring his reinvented measure aimed at sparking installation of solar power systems atop 10 million homes and businesses within the next decade.
Sanders expects his "" (S. 1108) to have its first public airing this month at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, a panel Bingaman chairs.
His measure is designed to be executed in tandem with SunShot, a Department of Energy initiative unveiled in February. SunShot is geared at dropping the price of homegrown solar so it is competitive with coal and other conventional fuels. In a nutshell, Sanders's bill would recognize and reward communities intent on streamlining cumbersome solar energy permitting processes into economical and efficient models.
"As we lower the cost of solar energy and increase our use of solar, we can create hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing and installation jobs in this country," Sanders said about his effort to make access to solar more affordable. "This bill also sets strong targets for American solar energy production, to ensure we compete vigorously with China and Europe for solar energy jobs."
Unlikely Ally in Arkansas
Bingaman's co-sponsorship is not at all surprising. Within the last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters he is open to clearing time on the Senate floor to discuss a strong package of energy bills because the chamber is woefully behind on showcasing any environmental legislation this session.
Support from Boozman, however, is a bit of a shock to Congress-watchers.
The freshman GOP senator, who defeated vulnerable Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln last November, didn't accumulate much, if any, of a green voting record during his five House terms. For instance, the League of Conservation Voters consistently awarded him single-digit ratings in its annual National Environmental Scorecard rankings.
Evidently, Sanders figured out how to dangle bait that wooed Boozman.
One, he emphasized the jobs angle for small-scale solar entrepreneurs. And two, he found a funding mechanism that doesn't require new money. This incarnation of the bill carries a total price tag of $250 million over a five-year span beginning in 2012. DOE would "borrow" that $50 million annual cost from a pot of money already designated for energy storage projects in the , according to staffers in Sanders's office.
Sanders and Boozman not only serve together on the but also have forged a bond while paired as the top two senators on the Green Jobs and the New Economy subpanel.
This measure appeals to Boozman because it "reduces our dependence on foreign sources," spokesperson Patrick Creamer told SolveClimate News. "His view has always been that our nation has to use the resources we’ve been blessed with — whether that is oil, wind, solar, natural gas or nuclear — in a common-sense and safe manner."
"A simplified permitting process will make solar energy more affordable," Boozman said via issued with Sanders. "I am especially pleased that our bill is fully offset and uses existing authorized spending to spur improvements in solar permitting and encourage the deployment of solar energy systems."
New Congress, New Bill