Enviros cringe as Senate committee approves energy bill
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved an energy bill on Wednesday that has the environmental community up in arms. The plan, enviros say, relies too heavily on fossil fuels and doesn’t do enough to advance renewable energy.
The American Clean Energy Leadership Act was approved by a vote of 15-8. The bill passed with bipartisan support, but also had bipartisan opposition.
A major concern for enviros and for some senators is that the bill would allow oil and gas drilling up to 10 miles off parts of the Florida coast, lifting a ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that Congress instated two and a half years ago.
Friends of the Earth blasted the whole bill as a “flashback to Bush energy policy.”
The Sierra Club was also quick to announce its opposition. “Numerous changes to this bill during consideration by the committee have significantly undermined its integrity and ability to build the clean energy economy,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “While it makes positive strides in setting new energy-efficiency standards for our buildings and appliances, it falls far short of what President Obama has called for in order to repower America with renewable energy, create millions of new clean energy jobs, and fight global warming.”
The bill includes a renewable electricity standard (RES) that’s weaker than the one being considered in the House as part of the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill. The version in the Senate bill would require utilities to draw 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources or energy-efficiency measures by 2021. Renewable-energy advocates have said that even the House version — which requires 20 percent of power to come from renewables and efficiency by 2020 — is far too weak to make much a difference.
American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode kept a positive tone in her official statement today, thanking committee chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) for including an RES, but asserting that it should be improved. “We look forward to working with Sen. Bingaman and other supporters to strengthen the RES so that it will get new jobs created,” said Bode. “A meaningful national standard is urgently needed to encourage investment in renewable energy, create new jobs for Americans, diversify and secure our nation’s energy supply, and avoid carbon emissions.”
You call that clean?
The bill would also establish a Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA), an independent body within the Department of Energy that would give out loans for research and development of energy technologies. Enviros criticize the CEDA provision for not adequately taking into account the greenhouse-gas emissions of technologies it would fund, and for not limiting funding for a particular technology. They worry this could mean large amounts of public money going to nuclear power and other technologies that are neither new nor particularly clean.
Seventeen environmental and anti–nuclear power groups issued a joint statement on Wednesday objecting to CEDA as it stands in the Senate bill, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. They argue that the CEDA provision would “pose unnecessary and potentially enormous risks to our environment and to the U.S. taxpayer.”
Other provisions in the bill would expand use of renewable energy on public lands; improve energy efficiency in appliances, buildings, and manufacturing; require more study of water use in energy production; and expand federal authority for siting electricity transmission lines.
Two Democrats on the committee, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, voted against the bill. Landrieu said she wants more support for nuclear power and wants coastal states to get a larger share of the revenue from offshore drilling.
Menendez is concerned that the bill doesn’t do enough to build a clean-energy economy. “In the last election, the prevailing message coming from both political parties and ultimately the voters was a simple one: change,” he said. “But to me, this bill has too many of the same old tired solutions that will not point us in a direction that creates enough jobs, lowers energy costs enough, or produces enough clean energy.”
Other progressive members of the committee, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), expressed concerns about some provisions but voted in favor of the bill anyway.
Four Republicans also voted in favor, including Sam Brownback (Kan.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), and the committee’s ranking Republican, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
Murkowski said it had been a “long and sometimes bumpy road” to consensus on the bill. “Despite an uphill fight against Democrats’ three-vote majority, we were able to include a number of provisions that will lead to more domestic production of the conventional energy we need to drive this country,” she said. “While I support this bill in its present form, we simply must do more to increase our domestic production and use of nuclear energy. I will continue to press for those provisions on the Senate floor.”
Bingaman stressed that the bill is the product of compromise. “None of us approve of every provision, none of us got everything that we wanted,” he said. “The end product, I believe, is a solid piece of work. It is one which will help not only to enable us to produce new sources of energy, but to use our energy sources wisely and more efficiently.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he hopes the full Senate can consider the bill sometime after the August recess. Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has said she intends to have a climate bill ready for consideration by early August. In the House, the energy and climate components are combined into a single bill — Waxman-Markey — but it’s not yet clear whether Senate leaders will use that same strategy.