Republican Anti-Environment Assault Continues on Senate Energy & Water Spending Bill

The Senate has set aside work on a spending bill for energy and water programs for now, but earlier this week the possibility that it could come up prompted Senate Republicans to offer a cornucopia of counter-productive ideas.  Even though bill was shelved, at least temporarily, it’s important for the public to understand what it revealed: the Republican Party’s desire to make America’s energy system LESS efficient, clean, and independent. 

As bad as the ideas themselves, is the mechanism Republicans used to promote them—by attempting to attach them to a spending bill via the amendment process.  These riders would not save taxpayers a single dime, but are policy changes that have nothing to do with funding.  Then why did GOP members attempt to put them on a spending bill?  Because, by doing so, they would avoid the scrutiny and full debate they would receive as free-standing proposals.  

Here’s a description of the harmful riders that were pending when the bill was pulled:

Amendment No. 988 - Undermines Light Bulb Efficiency StandardsFiled by Senators Enzi (R-WY), DeMint (R-SC), Paul (R-KY) and Johanns (R-NE)

This rider would block DOE from implementing and enforcing new light bulb efficiency standards during fiscal year 2012.  These standards, mandated by Congress in 2007, do not ban the incandescent bulb or require anyone to use compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Instead, they merely require that bulbs be more efficient.  Incandescent bulbs meeting the new standards are already on sale at stores throughout the country.  This amendment would jeopardize the benefits of the new standards, which save the average American family about $100 annually--approximately $12 billion nationwide.  The new standards would also avoid the construction of 30 large power plants and the pollution they produce.


Amendment No. 939 – Weakens Fundamental Clean Water Act ProtectionsFiled by Senators Barraso (R-WY) and Heller (R-NV)

This rider would block the Army Corps of Engineers from clarifying which streams and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act.  As such, the amendment would threaten waters, including headwaters and irregularly-flowing creeks, brooks, and streams, that make up more than half the river miles in the continental United States and contribute to the drinking water of roughly 117 million people.  Wetlands filter polluted water, reduce the risk of flooding, and provide important wildlife habitat. Sadly, the Clean Water Act, which protects these water bodies from unregulated pollution, filling, and destruction, has been under assault in recent years and this amendment opens up a new area of attack.  

Amendment No. 976 – Exempts Locks and Dam Projects Damaged by Disasters from Environmental Reviews Filed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)

This rider would exempt the rebuilding of locks and dams damaged by natural disasters from a variety of environmental reviews, including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. Such exemptions are completely unnecessary, since time and time again, states have successfully rebuilt after natural disasters while complying with environmental laws.  Further, existing law already provides expedited processes for post-disaster rebuilding.  Thus, this rider wouldn’t solve any real problems. Instead, it would weaken health and environmental protections.

Amendment No. 1003 – Exempts Pesticide Use from Clean Water Act Requirements Filed by Sen. Roberts (R-KS) 

This rider would permanently exempt pesticide application from the Clean Water Act’s requirements.  More than 1,000 waterways in the United States are known to be impaired because of pesticide pollution—and many more may be polluted but have not been sampled.  Pesticides discharged into our waterways harm fish and amphibians and contaminate drinking water supplies.

Amendment No. 967 – Shields Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining from EPA Review Filed by Sen. Paul (R-KY)

This rider would stop EPA and the Corps of Engineers from continuing a process they put in place to scrutinize proposed mines.  This process is the subject of recent litigation, which the rider would essentially resolve in the industry’s favor.  In addition, the rider would suspend EPA’s guidelines on how to take into account the scientific evidence of the harms associated with mountaintop removal projects in reviewing permits for mining.  Worst of all, the rider would bar EPA from further work on scientific analyses designed to advise states on the levels of pollution that waterways can receive while still supporting aquatic life. 

Amendment No. 957 – Limits DOE to Using Weak Green Building Rating Systems  Filed by Senators Wicker (R-MS), Boozman (R-AR), and Inhofe (R-OK)

This rider would prevent the Department of Energy (DOE) from using strong green building energy rating standards. The amendment limits DOE to using only green building standards that are developed and approved in accordance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rules. Such a requirement would effectively limit DOE to using only the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Green Globes building standards.The amendment would disallow the use of many other strong rating systems, including LEED, EPA Energy Star Portfolio Manager, and EPA Energy Star Homes, which have substantially increased the number of environmentally-friendly buildings in our country.

Amendment No. 1031 – Prohibits DOE from Working on Efficiency Standards for Televisions Filed by Sen. Coburn (R-OK)

This rider would prohibit DOE from working on energy efficiency standards for televisions during fiscal year 2012, potentially limiting the development of test procedures that would provide consumer with information on the energy use and cost of various models when shopping for a new TV.  Back in 2008, many of the television models on the market consumed as much energy each year as a new refrigerator.  Due to a combination of the federal Energy Star program and state policies, most new televisions today consume 50 – 75 percent less energy than those sold in 2008, without any sacrifice in performance.  However, there continues to be a big difference in energy use between a typical television and the least efficient models in the market.   In some cases, the least efficient models consume twice the energy as other models of similar size and with similar features.  A federal efficiency standard would ensure that all television sets on the market use available energy efficient technologies. 

Amendment No. 972 – Allows Funding for Clean Energy Loan Guarantees to Include Dirty Energy Technologies Filed by Sen. Sessions (R-AL)

This rider would expand the amount of funding for loan guarantees that support dirty energy technologies.  The Energy & Water bill currently includes $200 million that is to be used to pay the subsidy costs of just efficiency and renewable energy loan guarantees.  This amendment expands the technologies eligible for this funding to all those that can be supported under the DOE Loan Guarantee Program’s authorization, which includes dirty energy technologies such as coal-to-liquids.  Commercializing coal-to-liquids would exacerbate global warming and mining abuses.  Allowing more taxpayer resources for technologies that undermine public and environmental health is fiscally irresponsible and inappropriate for this bill.

Amendment No. 950 – Raids Clean Energy Funding to Boost Fossil Fuel R&D Filed by Sens. Hoeven (R-ND), Rockefeller (D-WV), and Portman (R-OH)

This amendment would take $30 million from the $200 million the bill allocates to subsidize the cost of efficiency and renewable energy loan guarantees, and use it to fund research and development for natural gas technologies, “unconventional fossil technologies,” and “advanced energy systems.”  These technologies could include fuels that emit alarge amount of pollution that is harmful to the environment and public health.

Amendment No. 947 – Limits DOE’s Ability to Preserve Loan Guarantee Investments Filed by Sens. McCain (R-AZ) and Coburn (R-OK)

This rider would prohibit DOE from using funds to pay for the costs of loan guarantees that make the Secretary subordinate to other parties involved in the project.  We think this provision is unwise.  It unnecessarily ties the DOE Secretary’s hand in a crisis situation, when, by definition, a project is in trouble and flexibility is warranted.   In the private markets, senior creditors routinely agree to be subordinated if a new creditor agrees to put “new money” in a project that will improve its chances of survival. They do this when they think their chances of getting their money back are greater with the new money than without the new money.  This provision would make DOE loan guarantees less attractive to borrowers since it makes loan guarantees riskier in that borrowers stand a greater chance of being pushed into bankruptcy during a rough patch.  

Recently, the Senate has shown itself to be capable of rejecting bad ideas on a bipartisan basis. By a vote of 41-56, including six Republicans, the Senate voted to keep the Cross-State Pollution Rule intact. This Good Neighbor Rule sets standards for air pollution that crosses a state’s border. 

That same afternoon the Senate rejected another attack. On a vote of 40-56, they voted down the “Republican Jobs Bill.”  This misnamed bill was not about jobs, but about lowering pollution protections. This bill included provisions to allow more offshore drilling in the Gulf and Alaska with less protection, and allow pesticides and mountain top removal coal mining to be discharged into streams, among numerous others.

It’s high time Congress do its job and address real problems rather than loading up important legislation like the funding of energy and water programs with ideological riders that only help polluters and don’t save the government a cent.