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1Sky Policy Update 8/4/2010 - House passes spill bill, Senate punts

4
Aug

1Sky Policy Update 8/4/2010 - House passes spill bill, Senate punts

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UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) postponed a vote on oil spill response legislation due to opposition from the entire 41-member Republican caucus and 2 moderate Democrats. Reid hopes to revisit the legislation after the August recess.

With hope of a climate bill this summer stamped out by partisan politics, the House and Senate have been working to pass narrowly-focused oil spill response and drilling reform measures. The House bill passed on Friday, 209-193, with two Republicans supporting it. The Senate bill failed to attract bipartisan support, and is being postponed until after recess. Members of the House are on recess beginning this week, and the Senate will follow suit after voting on Elena Kagan's Supreme Court confirmation later in the week. August recess will be a key time to hold senators accountable for their inaction on climate and energy.

Recess Timeline:

  • 7/31-9/12: House on recess
  • 8/7-9/12: Senate on recess

Senate Oil Spill Response Bill

The Senate failed to pass a pared down oil spill response bill this week. Partisan arguments over small business legislation last week are bleeding into this week, blocking bipartisanship and effectively running out the clock. Senate Majority Leader Reid hoped to have a vote on his bill by "mid-week," but without a single Republican vote and 2 Democrats opposing, the bill did not achieve the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

Reid's bill includes four major pieces:

  • Oil Spill Accountability - removes the liability cap for oil spills, restructures the Minerals Management Service, and gives the Presidential Oil Spill Commission subpoena power.
  • Home Star - creates a $5 billion energy efficiency retrofit program for residential units that Democrats say will create 200,000 new jobs.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) - funds the LWCF at $900 million per year to purchase public lands for state and national parks.
  • Natural Gas Vehicles - invests $3.8 billion through Department of Energy rebates to encourage Natural Gas vehicle deployment and infrastructure development

The legislation also includes a small Electric Vehicle (EV) program, to test EV deployment in select locations across the country, and hydraulic fracturing (i.e. "fracking") disclosure requirements, to inform the public on the potentially toxic chemicals used during natural gas extraction. Here's an outline of S. 3663, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act (.pdf).

In addition to Republican opposition, Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) both want to weaken the liability thresholds for drilling disasters. Reid's current bill contains provisions passed out of the House and the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee that eliminate the liability cap all together, forcing oil companies to claim responsibility for all damages caused by oil spills.

On Thursday night, Republicans unanimously opposed a bill to assist small businesses which Democrats unanimously supported. The bill would have provided loans and tax breaks and was supported by a range of conservative business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Meanwhile, the backlash against the Senate's unambitious clean energy package continues. Supporters of a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) claimed to have 60 votes to end debate and pass a requirement that utilities get 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. Majority Leader Reid disagreed, saying that the 60 votes for the RES were a different set of votes than the 60 he could get for an oil spill response package.

1Sky and our allies have been encouraging our supporters to hold the Senate accountable for their failure on climate legislation.

House Oil Spill Bill Passes, 209-193

The House of Representatives passed their own version of an oil spill bill on Friday: H.R. 3534, the 'Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act'. See the full vote count here. The House bill did not include Home Star and the natural gas drilling disclosures (both were already passed by the House) but did include important pieces that the Senate bill did not:

  • A bad actor provision stripping companies of their rights to drill if they have 10 drilling related deaths in the previous 7 years.
  • Strict ethics guidelines for federal employees regulating the oil and gas industry.
  • Mandates 10% of offshore drilling royalties distributed to a new ocean conservation fund.

Unfortunately, some House Democrats have nothing to show for their vote on the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) last year, because the Senate has, so far, failed to pass climate legislation. Instead of standing up to Big Oil and their allies, some representatives who voted "yes" on ACES aren't campaigning proactively on their clean energy vote, out of concern that it will impact their reelection campaigns.

August Recess: An Important Political Moment

The House of Representatives is on a 6-week summer recess and the Senate will adjourn at the end of this week. Both chambers are set to return on September 13. Last August, the political climate was rocked by the Tea Party and other anti-health care activists at town halls hosted by elected officials. This summer recess, Democrats are planning to highlight the jobs saved and created from the recovery act while Republicans plan to tap into public unrest from lingering unemployment and a slow economic growth. The Democrats are planning on highlighting their accomplishments, and focusing on the failed policies of their opposition. For clean energy advocates, we need to see candidates for federal office touting their clean energy victories, and calling for more action. In this election cycle that will mean equating clean energy with jobs and economic revival, and equating dirty energy with angry citizens, pollution, and out-of-date industries weighing our economy down.

1Sky and our allies will be showing up at senators' events across the country to emphasize the urgency of the climate crisis and call for a clean energy economy. We need to show our senators that delay on climate legislation is unacceptable. For more info, check out these sign-up pages:

Dirty Air Acts Persist

After Senate Majority Leader Reid introduced his scaled-down energy and oil spill response bill, Senate Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) reiterated his commitment to suspending the Clean Air Act and allowing big polluters to continue to emit without regulations. Senator Rockefeller intends to bring his Dirty Air Act to the Senate floor before the end of the year. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is working to attach another Dirty Air Act onto small business loan legislation. With the small business bill stalled, the Senate will likely not even vote on her amendment. The Clean Air Act is also being threatened by a set of lawsuits led by a major coal company, two conservative attorneys general, a major coal company, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Conference Committee, Lame Duck Climate Bill?

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs breathed a bit of life into the climate bill debate saying a bill capping global warming emissions is not "essentially dead for the year," saying that a climate package could be introduced during negotiations with the Senate in conference committee during the lame duck session. Amidst reports that the climate bill may still have some life, Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) introduced an amendment requiring two-thirds of the Senate (67 votes) to include cap-and-trade legislation in the House-Senate conference report if the Senate has not already debated and moved past a filibuster with 60 votes.

BP Oil Spill Update: Day 105

BP engineers will begin a "static kill" today to finally seal the well that has been leaking oil for over 100 days. The process involves pumping mud and cement into the wellbore to stop the flow. Engineers will not know the results of the attempt until Sunday.

Embattled BP CEO Tony Hayward will step down in October and will begin drawing from a multi-million dollar pension fund and receive a $1.6 million severance package. The Economist rightly points out that the company is rewarding bad leadership, as Hayward's term resulted in record losses because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Time Magazine released an article quoting scientists in the Gulf of Mexico who claim the BP spill damage has been exaggerated. The article was picked up by media outlets across the country.

Meanwhile, scientists from universities in the Gulf region released studies that show tiny toxic droplets of oil and dispersant are making their way into the food-chain. This report has largely not been picked up by the mainstream media. It appears that the dispersant and oil mix are infiltrating the bodies of animals throughout the Gulf, including crab larvae shells and blue crabs. Scientists are concerned that the tiny droplets could enter the food chain and affect everything from sea turtles to shrimp and blue fin tuna. In more bad news, NPR reports that Gulf tourism may take a huge hit for up to 3 years and cost the Gulf Coast economy over $23 billion in lost revenue.

Prepared by Gabe Elsner and Jason Kowalski from the 1Sky Policy team. Please direct questions or comments to jason@1sky.org.
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