Problems with nuclear power plants in Japan make it less likely Congress will pass significant energy-related legislation before the next election. Republicans and Obama found common ground on nuclear as part of energy policy, so it would have been critical for a bipartisan energy bill. However, in light of recent events in Japan, it will be much more difficult to promote the use of nuclear power.
Republicans have advocated streamlining the approval process for nuclear power plants, making them easier and cheaper to build. After what has transpired in Japan, it will be nearly impossible to advocate a less rigorous approval process. Nonetheless, Republicans in the House of Representatives have stated they will attempt to (A) pass individual, targeted bills rather than comprehensive legislation, and (B) bring to a vote bills to open more federal land and waters to oil and gas drilling, (C) promote the use of natural gas vehicles, (D) block a variety of EPA rules, and (E) obtain approval for the Keystone pipeline, allowing oil produced in Canadian oil sands to be transported to Gulf coast refineries.
Obama and the Democrats have adopted a “clean” energy standard that would require a shift away from coal to nuclear and renewable energy. Again, since nuclear was going to lay the groundwork for a bipartisan energy bill, the odds of grand bargain have diminished.
A factor that could raise the odds of an energy bill is higher gasoline prices. Gasoline prices have been on the rise and may reach levels where they become a political issue since many analysts tie presidential approval ratings (in part) to gas prices.