WASHINGTON—Even though Republicans have vowed an "all-of-the-above" approach to America's energy future, Democrats are accusing them of clinging to a narrow, antiquated, hydrocarbon-heavy past.
Members of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition are furious about a 2012 energy and water appropriations bill that they claim shortchanges President Obama's efforts at innovation and competition in favor of an addiction to oil, coal and natural gas.
"Now is the worst possible moment to slash funding for the research and development of sustainable energy technologies," coalition member Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said about the $30.6 billion bill that advanced out of the House Appropriations Committee last Wednesday.
"At a time when our economy is already fragile, abandoning scientific research would cause the United States to lose even more high-tech jobs to our foreign competitors."
Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona was the sole Republican who joined 19 Democrats in opposing the bill that passed on a 26-20 vote. The full House will be considering the measure, one of a dozen sweeping federal spending bills, after Independence Day.
On the energy front, this version of the bill snips $1.9 billion from the White House request for investments in energy efficiency research, renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal, fuel-conserving vehicles, weatherization, biomass and other programs. That's more than 40 percent below current funding levels.
WASHINGTON—These days, it would be understandable if EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson began channeling the spirit of former Minnesota Democratic Sen. Ed Muskie.
Frustrated with the automobile industry's vehement pushback on compliance with emissions standards in 1977, the chief author of the Clean Air Act told colleagues on the Senate floor: "Give them an inch and they'll take 100,000 miles."
Thirty-four years later, the debate features power companies' emissions, but the sentiments of the continuing federal government vs. private sector tug-of-war remain the same. In a nutshell, utilities resent the Environmental Protection Agency's recent efforts to fashion a host of Clean Air Act updates that dictate when and how to curb a lengthy list of pollutants.
A proposed rule to limit mercury and other air toxics from coal-burning electricity generators took center stage at a divisive Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing Wednesday.
WASHINGTON—Great Plains states are risking an unknown level of environmental and economic hurt if the U.S. State Department persists in routing a controversial tar sands pipeline atop the Ogallala Aquifer without further study.
That is the scientific warning coming from a pair of University of Nebraska professors with expertise in groundwater flow and contamination.
In a June 6 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (attached below), the two scientists laid out how their state’s fragile sandhills region is particularly vulnerable to crude oil pollution from a pipeline spill and why a research information gap needs to be closed.
WASHINGTON—EPA authorities are still far from satisfied with the State Department’s ongoing environmental review of a controversial 1,702-mile pipeline that would pump diluted bitumen from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands mines to Gulf Coast oil refineries.
The department’s second effort not only falls short by failing to fully address safety and oil spill risks along a less-than-satisfactory route of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, but it also misses the mark on calculating lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, potential damage to wetlands and migratory birds, and the dangers to at-risk communities along the six-state route, according to an Environmental Protection Agency document released Tuesday.
EPA gave the State Department its lowest grade of “inadequate” back in July 2010 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s team issued its first draft of the environmental review on Keystone XL. That harsh dressing-down forced the department to collect more data before completing a revamped draft in mid-April.
But evidently the State Department still hasn’t done enough homework.
WASHINGTON—With members of Congress up to their armpits in acrimony on Capitol Hill, Sen. Bernie Sanders figures bipartisanship isn't enough to advance ideas anymore.
So he is trying a broadened approach to lift legislators out of that muddled morass: tripartisanship.
The adept Vermont independent has lured New Mexico Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman into co-sponsoring his reinvented measure aimed at sparking installation of solar power systems atop 10 million homes and businesses within the next decade.
Sanders expects his "10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2011" (S. 1108) to have its first public airing this month at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, a panel Bingaman chairs.
His measure is designed to be executed in tandem with SunShot, a Department of Energy initiative unveiled in February. SunShot is geared at dropping the price of homegrown solar so it is competitive with coal and other conventional fuels. In a nutshell, Sanders's bill would recognize and reward communities intent on streamlining cumbersome solar energy permitting processes into economical and efficient models.
WASHINGTON—Those perceiving the Clean Air Act as a lumbering locomotive intent on flattening U.S. jobs, economic competitiveness and energy reliability hope the "TRAIN Act" makes more than a whistle-stop tour through Capitol Hill.
Conservationists, however, have an opposite take.
For them, the wheels can't come off soon enough from House legislation that is saddled with a cumbersome name — Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011 — to create a cutesy but memorable acronym that lends itself to ridicule.
Listen to Clean Air Watch's Frank O'Donnell.
"It ought to be called the 'Train Wreck Act' because it's such a thoroughly bad idea," the president of the Washington-based advocacy organization told SolveClimate News in an interview. "This just shows you that the spirit of George Orwell is alive and well in Washington."
But Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan evidently thinks the name reflects the serious legislating the House must undertake now that the GOP wields power once again.
The Republican says he is sponsoring such a measure because Congress desperately needs "an honest accounting of how much the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory train wreck is costing our economy and American consumers."
WASHINGTON—Five Nebraska senators are asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to delay a decision on a controversial oil sands pipeline until they have extra time to address outstanding safety, routing and oversight issues.
The U.S. State Department is expected to issue a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the 1,702-mile, $7 billion Canada-to-Gulf Coast Keystone XL pipeline by the end of the year. However, the Nebraskans emphasized that extending the deadline to May 2012 would give the recently adjourned state Legislature another session to beef up safeguards.
"We respectfully ask you to give the State of Nebraska this additional opportunity to enact state legislation to protect our land, our water and our children's future," the mix of Republicans and Democrats — Sens. Colby Coash, Annette Dubas, Tony Fulton, Ken Haar and Kate Sullivan — wrote in the letter dated May 25.
"In stark contrast to the mature federal regulatory scheme for natural gas pipelines, federal regulation for oil pipelines is thus far inadequate," the letter continues. "This has created widespread uncertainty among members of the Nebraska Legislature regarding Nebraska's rights and responsibilities in the complex arena of pipeline regulation as we have wrestled with the Keystone [XL] pipeline over the past year."
Meanwhile, in a related matter, 34 U.S. House Democrats signed on to a June 1 letter penned by fellow Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee that asks the State Department to specifically drill down on a half-dozen Keystone XL issues, including an analysis of the impact of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions during a 50-year lifecycle span.
WASHINGTON—Texas and 14 other states clearly want to deep-six the endangerment finding.
But legal experts who keep an eagle eye on Clean Air Act issues agree that attempts to bury it won't succeed. The Environmental Protection Agency's December 2009 finding that heat-trapping gases pose a danger to human health and welfare is likely impenetrable to court challenges because agency scientists did their homework so thoroughly, they say.
"All of us watching this would be absolutely stunned with an appellate court overturning the endangerment finding," environmental law professor Pat Parenteau told SolveClimate News in an interview. "Based on everything I know about this case, it's a 90 percent winner for the government. You can never say 100 percent because weird things can happen in litigation."
Parenteau, who specializes in EPA and Congress at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton, is referring to the opening legal brief Texas filed May 24 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. It's the appellate court designated for handling direct challenges to EPA's authority.
The states argue in their 41-page document that the endangerment finding should be overturned because it is not only arbitrary and capricious but also a violation of the Clean Air Act. They claim EPA refused to define or measure endangerment and refused to consider adaptation and mitigation as solutions to the effects of climate change.
WASHINGTON—Jack Hidary certainly isn't short on moxie.
Instead of waiting for a congressional committee to advance electric vehicle legislation, the New York entrepreneur stood in room 366 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building where those discussions usually unfold and announced his bold initiative designed to prod motorists from the pump to the plug.
And, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the always-gracious New Mexico Democrat who lords over those hearings as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, welcomed Hidary with kind words and encouragement.
Hidary and dozens of other electric vehicle disciples gathered Wednesday to launch Hertz's green car-sharing program in the nation's capital. The blueprint, introduced last December in New York City, gives drivers access to an array of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Hertz has mapped out a plan to replicate the service in urban centers nationwide and overseas.
"This is not a dog and pony show," Hidary told SolveClimate News in an interview before kicking off a brief program that included remarks from industry representatives as well as alternative energy aficionados Bingaman, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who drives a Tesla, and Jim Woolsey, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
"What we're saying is let's make electric vehicles a reality and accessible to the people. This makes it real."
WASHINGTON—Rep. Henry Waxman's attempts to find out if a proposed controversial Canada-to-U.S. Gulf Coast oil sands pipeline will benefit Koch Industries appears to have hit a dead end.
At least for the time being.
Representatives for billionaire brothers and oil magnates Charles and David Koch — major donors to GOP elections and influential conservative organizations — are evidently stonewalling the California Democrat about their possible financial interest in seeing the permit approved for TransCanada's proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.
Two powerful House Republicans told Waxman they are not interested in pursuing any additional inquiries with Koch Industries.
That refusal prompted Waxman to try another tactic during a Monday afternoon hearing on Capitol Hill. He offered to expand his investigation to include all energy companies that might benefit from Keystone XL so as not to single out Koch.
"I have no objection to asking other companies about their interests in tar sands," Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during an Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing. "What I do object to is protecting Koch from legitimate scrutiny."
"This pipeline and the legislation that supports it will enable the oil companies to charge American consumers more for their gasoline, while increasing carbon pollution and endangering precious water supplies," he continued. "We know who will lose. We also need to find out who will benefit."