Narrow Energy Bills Introduced in House and Senate
Goals: Make Deep Ocean Drilling Safer;
Improve Energy Efficiency
House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday introduced separate energy proposals that are principally concerned with limiting the hazards of deep ocean energy exploration and production, and also contain modest additional measures to strengthen energy efficiency programs and expand the use of natural gas as a fuel in heavy vehicles.
Both proposals were unveiled five days after Senate Democrats pulled provisions to respond to rising carbon emissions out of their comprehensive climate and energy proposal. That decision prompted a chorus of condemnation from many of the nation’s influential editorial pages and leaders of major American environmental organizations.
The criticism continued this week. A group of 350 green organizations, among them the US Climate Action Network, said they would press the fight in the Senate to gain historic provisions to limit carbon emissions.
“There’s no doubt that big oil, big coal, their army of lobbyists and their partners in Congress are cheering the obstruction that blocked Senate action on clean energy and climate legislation,” the groups wrote in a joint statement. “As we look forward, one thing is clear: the Senate’s job is not done. They must use every opportunity available to address clean energy and climate reform by working to limit carbon pollution and invest in new clean energy sources that are made in America.”
We’re Still Here
“It is important to recognize before people say that the message that didn’t work that the majority supports it and the minority is using procedural tactics,” added Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a news conference. “This isn’t a time to think those messages aren’t fundamentally correct. “Those arguments are going to get stronger, and those who are playing politics will have less support and will find it harder to continue.”
Both the House and Senate proposals call for reorganizing the Department of Interior’s division that regulates offshore drilling. The Senate proposes to rename the unit the Department of Ocean Energy; the House would name the regulatory unit the Bureau of Energy and Resource Management. Both proposals also call tougher oversight of offshore operations, more assertive environmental monitoring and new fees on oil companies to help pay for compliance.
The 238-page House bill is a compilation of measures from three separate bills passed since the April 20 blowout and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, The bill includes a provision to bar companies that were exempted from paying federal royalties under leases issued between 1996 and 2000 from bidding on any new leases unless they renegotiated those old leases. Those no-fee and no-royalty leases were meant to encourage expensive deepwater exploration at a time of low oil prices. The House measure also includes a so-called bad actor provision that would deny drilling rights to any company that has had more than 10 deaths offshore or at land-based oil operations over the previous seven years. The only company the rule currently applies to is BP, said federal officials.
Oil Industry Opposes
Jack N. Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, objected to those ideas and argued that that they would raise the cost of production, fence off large areas of the outer continental shelf to drilling, and drive small and midsize companies out of business. “We remain concerned about what we’re hearing,” Gerard told the New York Times. “I would encourage the House and Senate to protect American jobs as they consider appropriate responses to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.”
The Senate bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid, and titled the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Spill Accountability Plan, principally advances the clean energy and energy efficiency provisions of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which contained over $100 billion in clean energy, efficiency, and transit investment. The Senate measure proposes to spend $3.8 billion to promote natural gas as a fuel for light and heavy trucks, grants to developers of natural gas fueling infrastructure, and up to $2 billion in loan guarantees to develop natural gas-fueled vehicles. The proposal calls for new investment for development of electric vehicles. And the proposal calls for investing $5 billion on energy efficiency programs aimed principally at the housing sector.
The last major provision of the Senate bill authorizes reliable funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the public account that invests in resource and land protection and is funded by revenue from permit fees and royalty income from natural gas and oil development on federal lands.
“Our plan will lower energy costs for homeowners and create at least 150,000 jobs,” said Sen. Reid in a statement. “Our plan will lessen our dependence on oil by promoting the manufacturing and deployment of clean vehicles that use natural gas and electricity. Our plan will help protect environmentally important and vulnerable areas by fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the next 5 years for the first time. And our plan will hold BP and all the oil companies involved in the Gulf Coast oil spill fully accountable for the true costs of the damages they caused.”
President Obama, in a brief appearance on Tuesday, endorsed the Senate and House Democratic packages.
“That legislation is an important step in the right direction,” the president said. “But I want to emphasize it’s only the first step. And I intend to keep pushing for broader reform, including climate legislation because if we’ve learned anything from the tragedy in the gulf, it’s that our current energy policy is unsustainable.”
Keith Schneider, a journalist and multi-media producer, is senior writer at the US Climate Action Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org