Tough races: 9 friends of energy independence in tight 2012 political campaigns

October 3, 2012 |

It’s a year of low congressional approval and not much congressional action. But every election is an important one, and there’s lots of unfinished business from this past cycle. Here are nine friends of energy independence and advanced bioenergy that find themselves in tight races. In one, a Democrat with a safe Washington House seat goes for the Governor’s mansion. In two Senate races, noted Democrats are facing big challenges in Florida and Montana. In the House, we’re highlighting four Republican incumbents and two Democratic challengers. In one district, Iowa’s 4th – they are squaring off against each other.

Are these the 9 most important legislators around, or the best friends of bioenergy? No – but they are certainly in tight races, and those whose overall agenda agrees with your own, will likely be highly grateful for those supporters who have the opportunity to work just a little harder in this election cycle, and help tip the scales in the direction you wish.

Who does the Digest endorse? We endorse you. Your vote counts – make sure you cast a ballot this November.


Jon Tester D-MT

Rothenberg Political report: Pure Toss-up
Cook Political Report: Toss-Up
Rasmussen Reports: Toss-Up

Tester has been instrumental in a USDA pilot crop insurance program for farmers who grow camelina — a plant that can be refined into biofuel. In 2010, the U.S. Navy test-flew an F/A-18 Hornet using Montana-grown camelina fuel. From his seat on the Appropriations Committee, Tester has supported Montana universities’ biofuel research, investments in oilseed and ethanol production, and helped open up capital investment opportunities for Montana’s energy start-ups.

Bill Nelson, D-FL

Rothenberg Political report: Lean Democratic.
Cook Political Report: Lean Democratic
Rasmussen Reports: Leans Democratic

The personable Florida senator, who picked up an Algae Industry Leadership Award from the Algae Biomass Organization, has been subjected to $18 million worth of out-of-state contributions that finance attack ads for the Senator’s support of the Health Care bill.


Jay Inslee D-WA

Rothenberg Political report: Toss-Up / Tilt Democrat
Cook Political Report: Toss-Up

Rep. Inslee has moved from a safe House seat in Washington state to challenge for the governor’s chair. He’s running against Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna. The race is rated…

Last year, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. tabled a bill that would authorize the Dept. of Defense to sign 15-year contracts for advanced biofuel supply, up from the current five-year limit. The proposal has been referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Armed Services.

Inslee, who is co-chair of the House Algae Caucus, picked up the Algae Biomass Organization’s first annual Algae Industry Leadership Award, for his support of policies that would spur private investment in algae-for-energy technologies and speed the commercial deployment of algae-based biofuels.
Recently, Inslee visited waste-to-energy refinery General Biodiesel in South Seattle and noted, These are the kinds of innovations that will make Washington a global leader in fueling our planet cleanly and sustainably.”

Climate Solutions commentator Ross Macfarlane described Inslee for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as “one of the two or three members of Congress from any state who is most informed and most (accomplished) in developing specific policies to drive the clean economy in really every relevant sector.”

House of Representatives

Brian Bilbray R- 52 CA

Rothenberg Political report: Toss-Up
Cook Political Report: Toss-Up

Now in the race of his life, with his seat in San Diego’s high-tech corridor. Bilbray is co-chair of the House Algae Caucus and a sponsor of The Algae Fuel Parity Act, in the House of Representatives, and was a co-sponsor of the successful House effort to win passage of the Renewable Fuel Promotion Act (HR 4168) in the last Congress. At the time that the Algae Fuel Parity Act was introduced, Bilbray noted, “Algae-based fuel has the potential to significantly reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels but is excluded from most federal programs that support and encourage the development of advanced bio-fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol.  Algae does not qualify for most of these incentives because it is not a cellulosic organism. The Algae Fuel Parity Act fixes these oversights.”

Mary Bono Mack R-CA – 36th district

Rothenberg Political report: Republican Favored.
Cook Political Report: Lean Republican

The (ABO), the trade association for the U.S. algae industry, today praised the U.S. House of Representatives for passing
At the time of the House’s passage of 2010’s H.R. 4168, the Algae-based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act, the Algae Biomass Organization specifically recognized Reps. Harry Teague (D-NM), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Brian Bilbray (R-CA) for leading efforts to give algae-based biofuel tax parity with cellulosic biofuels with respect to a $1.01 per gallon production tax credit and a 50 percent bonus depreciation for biofuel plant property.

“Today, the House sent an unmistakable message of bipartisan support to the hundreds of companies, scientists, entrepreneurs and government agencies working to accelerate the development of algae-based fuels, which will create jobs, decrease emissions and reduce our nation’s dependence on imported fossil fuels,” said Mary Rosenthal, Executive Director of ABO. “The passage of this bill is a huge first step towards our goal of creating parity for algae-based biofuels within the tax code and among various other government programs.”

Roscoe Bartlett – R-MD 6th District

Rothenberg Political report: Democrat Favored.
Cook Political Report: Lean Democratic.

Another co-sponsor of the HR 1149 Bilbray bill to expand the cellulosic biofuels tax credit to algae-based fuels, Bartlett is Co-chair of the House Renewable Energy and energy efficiency caucus – his district was reapportioned in this cycle to add a number of liberal-leaning DC suburbs.

Biofuels observers may well remember a speech given by the Congressman at the DOE’s Biomass 2009 Summit, in he warned against what he called “widespread unrealistic expectations and unsustainable mandates by Congress for biofuels under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) expanded in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).”

The Iowa 4th – friends of bio square off against each other

Steve King R-IA vs Christie Vilsack, the Democratic challenger, in Iowa’s 4th District

Rothenberg Political report: Toss-up / Tilt Republican
Cook Political Report: Lean Republican

King’s had a tough time balancing support for renewable fuels in Iowa – and in particular, the RFS2 mandate, with a generally anti-government populism that pleases a lot of Republican voters in Iowa’s 4th district.

He’s said “the very best thing that has come along for small communities in Iowa, around 950 of them, has been renewable fuels, and I’m fortunate that I’ve been in the middle of that for a long, long time.” At the same time, in a recent debate with Democratic challenger CHristie Vilsack, he noted “The prosperity that we have enjoyed is a result of a lot of things; risk-taking capital, trying to get government out of the way, trying to reduce the intrusiveness of the federal government.” King voted against extanding the biodiesel tax credit in 2009, and missed the vote for RFS2 in 2007.

Challenger Christie Vilsack is, as you may suspect, the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and the long-time former first lady of Iowa. Her five point energy plan:

1. Create the 15-person National Energy Council to develop a long-term energy plan for the US.
2. Support All Forms of Domestic Energy Production.
3. Oppose Repeal of the Renewable Energy Standard:
4. Support Production Tax Credit:
5. Develop New Bio-Fuels Markets: Vilsack said she will work to develop new domestic markets and expand exports.

Energy official aims for Congress in the Sunshine state

Joe Garcia is the Democratic challenger in Florida’s 26th district

Rothenberg Political report: Toss-Up
Cook Political Report: Toss-Up

Down in Florida, Joe Garcia, an innovative former DOE official and long-time champion of clean energy in the Sunshine State, is running ahead in a close race with incumbent David Rivera, in the House 26th District race, in a bid to unseat the first-term Congressman, who has run into problems over an ethics probe. Garcia was DOE director in the Office of Economic Impact in the first two years of the Obama Administration, and was formerly chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission, overseeing rate cases.

The Miami Herald noted that “Bracing for embattled U.S. Rep. David Rivera to be indicted or lose his election, Republicans have started lining up potential successors to regain the seat in 2014…The pressure has been building for about a month, but it boiled over last week after a series of stories by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald documented that a candidate suspected of illegal campaign activities linked to Rivera has turned on the congressman.”


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