Congress returned from the July 4th recess on 7/12 to a very busy week on legislation related to the Gulf oil spill, climate and energy, and wildlife issues.
Climate and Energy
On 7/13 Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) gave renewed momentum to climate and energy legislation when he announced that he will bring a bill to the Senate floor as early as the week of 7/26, with a vote expected before the August recess, now scheduled to begin around 8/6. The particulars of the bill and the precise timing remain up in the air, but Sen. Reid is expected to introduce a bill including reforms to the regulation of offshore oil drilling (see below); energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions based on those in Sen. Bingaman's (D-NM) American Clean Energy and Leadership Act (S. 1462); provisions to reduce U.S. oil use in transportation based on S. 3601 (see below); and a carbon pollution cap that would apply at least to the electric utility industry. The heightened prospects for a Senate bill have prompted a flurry of negotiations on possible legislation to cap utility emissions, including efforts by Sen. Bingaman and an effort led by Sen. Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Lieberman (I-CT). Both of them are seeking to woo key moderate Republicans, especially Sen. Snowe (R-ME).
Progress on climate would be set back, however, by a bill introduced by Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring cuts in, or even working to develop, regulations for global warming pollution for the next two years (S. 3702). Sen. Rockefeller's bill would undermine the Clean Air Act as a tool for combating global warming pollution.
On 7/13 Sen. Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Johnson (D-SD) introduced the Securing America's Future with Energy and Sustainable Technologies Act (S. 3576) to promote the development of renewable energy in the United States. Although the legislation includes several strong measures to support renewable energy, including a renewable energy standard and energy efficiency resource standard, it also contains several problematic provisions that would promote corn ethanol.
On 7/14 Sen. Rockefeller and Sen. Voinovich (R-OH) introduced a bill to promote carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies. The Rockefeller-Voinovich bill would promote full-scale development and deployment of CCS technology by offering tax credits and other incentives to early adopters. It would also promote CCS research, establish a long-term legal and regulatory framework for CCS, and provide $20 billion in incentives over the next decade for early deployment. However, it includes a problematic provision that would provide post-closure liability relief for geologic sequestration projects. Such liability relief could lead to design decisions and operational practices that create avoidable risks and that could result in damages decades later. It is also unclear how the significant capacity of plants that is contemplated in the bill would fund its ongoing operating costs in the absence of a cap and price on carbon.
On 7/15 Sen. Merkley (D-OR), along with Sens. Carper (D-DE), Bennet (D-CO) and Udall (D-NM), introduced the Oil Independence for a Stronger America Act (S. 3601). This legislation sets the goal of cutting U.S. oil use by eight million barrels per day by 2030 -- equal to the amount that we import from outside of North America -- and includes a comprehensive set of measures to achieve this goal. The legislation focuses on the transportation sector, which is responsible for nearly 70 percent of America's oil use, as well as almost 30 percent of our global warming pollution. Sen. Merkley's bill includes policies to boost the manufacture and use of electric vehicles, improve and expand clean transportation options like public transit and freight rail, and provide incentives for the next generation of sustainable alternative transportation fuels. The legislation also includes policies to reduce the use of heating oil in residential and commercial buildings through efficiency measures and use of cleaner heating fuels.
Gulf Oil Disaster
On 6/30 the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill to tighten the environmental requirements for offshore oil and gas activity, and to reorganize the former Minerals Management Service, the agency that regulated that activity until being recently renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The bill, the Outer Continental Shelf Reform Act (S. 3516), passed by a voice vote. The bill is expected to be part of the climate and energy package being assembled by Sen. Reid.
On 7/14 the House Natural Resources Committee held a markup of H.R. 3534, its bill to reform offshore drilling. The Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act is broader than the Senate bill and includes reforms to onshore drilling and a new trust fund for activities to protect oceans and coastal areas. The committee voted 27-21 to approve the bill, which was originally introduced by Rep. Rahall (D-WV) in September 2009. The committee defeated, 22-26, an amendment by Rep. Cassidy (R-LA) that would have overturned the Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling that is scheduled to remain in place until 11/30.
Both the House and Senate committees passed amendments to establish a congressional commission to investigate the disaster in the Gulf to duplicate the work of the Presidential Commission, which had its first meetings on 7/12 and 7/13 in Louisiana. The Senate amendment was offered by Sen. Barrasso (R-WY), and was adopted by a vote of 15-8; in the House, an identical amendment was offered by Rep. Cassidy and passed by voice vote.
On 7/14 the House Science and Technology Committee held a markup of pending oil spill legislation. The Oil Pollution Research and Development Program Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2693) and the Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Act (H.R. 5716) both passed out of the committee. The legislation would prioritize research into oil spill cleanup and prevention and provide more robust research for safer, cleaner oil and gas drilling technologies. Those bills may come before the full House later this week.
On 7/15, the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed H.R. 5626, the Blowout Prevention Act, which would strengthen the standards governing blowout preventers and other offshore drilling technologies. The House Transportation and Infrastructure committee has also reported a bill, H.R. 5629, the Oil Spill Accountability and Environmental Protection Act, which would eliminate current liability caps on damages related to oil spills, give the Coast Guard more funding and personnel to increase oversight and inspection of offshore facilities, and require the EPA to study and adjust as needed their list of approved chemical dispersants used in oil spill responses. The three bills are likely to be assembled into a package and come before the House the week of 7/26.
On 6/30 Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) and Rep. Campbell (R-CA) introduced the Compound 1080 and M-44 Elimination Act (H.R. 5643) to end the use of two poisons that the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program employs to kill coyotes and other carnivores. Sodium cyanide M-44 devices carry an inherent risk of killing wildlife other than their intended targets, including such protected species as California condors, grizzly bears and bald and golden eagles.
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