Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) is up to some serious shenanigans up on the hill.
First, he has introduced an amendment that would attach the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) to the farm bill. He claims he’s trying to save the RFS, in case negotiations on the energy bill (where the RFS now lives) stall out. Senate majority leader Harry Reid opposes the move. Why? It’s complicated, but the gist is that lots of folks — Reid likely included — see this as an attempt to sink the energy bill. The RFS is one of the key planks holding support for the energy bill together, bringing in some midwestern Republicans to compensate for the auto and oil Dems that have bailed. If the RFS falls out of the energy bill, the coalition falls apart.
Also, there are some environmental improvements in the works for the RFS (which is, as Ron keeps saying, odious beyond measure) — putting it in the farm bill would help it escape the horrible fate of being rendered slightly less porktastic. Furious maneuvering is underway.
Secondly, if that’s not bad enough, Domenici is trying to attach his beloved nuclear loan guarantees to the farm bill as well. (Green groups call him out for it.) He’s doing so in a sneaky way, with an amendment that makes no specific mention of nuclear power — it’s called "loan guarantees for renewable fuel facilities." And who could oppose that? The deviousness comes under the title "Improvements to Underlying Loan Guarantee Authority." I’ll spare you the legalese, but suffice to say it lumps nuclear loan guarantees in with the rest of the loan guarantee program, preventing appropriators from blocking nuke loan guarantees specifically (without also blocking ethanol loan guarantees, which we know no legislator would ever do). Which kind of makes this bit look more sinister:
5) MAXIMUM GUARANTEED PRINCIPAL.–The total principal amount of a loan guaranteed under this subsection may not exceed $250,000,000 for a single facility.
(6) AMOUNT OF GUARANTEE.–The Secretary shall guarantee 100 percent of the principal and interest due on 1 or more loans made for a facility that is the subject of the guarantee under paragraph (3).
$250,000,000 here, $250,000,000 there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money. And yes, taxpayers will be on the hook for 100% of the principal and interest. [UPDATE: OK, this underestimates the damage. The $250m limit is only for biofuel facilities — there is no limit for nuclear plants. The only limit is that the loan can only cover 80% of the project’s costs, which could be in the range of $4-6b. Yikes.]
Also, look at this:
(3) RELATION TO OTHER LAWS.–Section 504(b) of the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990 (2 U.S.C. 661c(b)) shall not apply to a loan or loan guarantee made in accordance with paragraph (1)(B).’
The Federal Credit Reform Act would in all likelihood prevent loan guarantees to nuclear plants, since they are such a huge risk and a high probability of default. So Domenici is trying to sneak nuke loans around that law.
Anyhoo, I realize this stuff is arcane, and developing quickly — it all may be out of date by the time I wake up tomorrow.
Point is, it’s all part of Domenici’s legacy: fighting renewable energy.