Congres Exploiting Hurricanes to Push Energy Legislation that Rewards Rich Oil and Gas Companies

Two House committees began marking up energy-related legislation this morning that includes industry-friendly proposals so extreme that Congress excluded them from the controversial energy bill it passed during the summer. Both of the new bills would gut laws that protect our air and water from further pollution and open our fragile coastlines and wilderness areas to destructive drilling, according to analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Ostensibly drafted in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the bills also would dole out more taxpayer subsidies to energy companies that are enjoying record-breaking profits.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is offering H.R. 3893, the "Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005," and Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Resources Committee, is offering the "National Energy Supply Diversification and Disruption Prevention Act." Both bills are expected to sail through their respective committees on the way to a floor vote in the House next week.

"These bills are grab-bags of polluter-friendly policies that have nothing to do with helping hurricane victims or securing America's energy needs. Only the profit-soaked oil and gas companies win with these bills, while the rest of us are stuck paying higher energy prices," said Karen Wayland, NRDC's legislative director. "Adding insult to injury, the legislation exempts industry from complying with laws that safeguard our health and the environment."

Chairman Barton's Bill would:

  • Gut the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) Program. This program is designed to protect the public health from air pollution by requiring pollution control upgrades on most industrial sources of pollutants, including 17,000 large energy-producing industrial facilities across the country.
  • Extend Clean Air Act pollution cleanup deadlines. Cities with the most persistent smog problems would be allowed to miss cleanup deadlines by as much as a decade. The biggest pollution sources in those cities would not even have to meet Clean Air Act requirements. More than 150 million Americans live in areas where the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that ground-level ozone, or "smog," levels are high enough to cause serious health problems, such as asthma and other respiratory diseases.
  • Derail the clean-up of the nation's dirty diesel engines. The energy secretary could limit EPA's authority to set sulfur and toxics limits for diesel (and gasoline) fuels by unilaterally and indefinitely suspending the use of cleaner fuels if he or she finds potential shortages anywhere in the country. The new bill would undermine EPA's upcoming rule that requires ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel use starting next summer, and new, cleaner diesel engines starting in 2007. The measure also would undermine efforts to clean up construction and farm equipment, locomotives and marine diesel engines. (Cleaning up diesel engines has been the Bush EPA's most significant air pollution step.) When fully implemented in 2030, this diesel program could prevent more than 20,000 premature deaths and more than $140 billion in health costs each year.
  • Limit judicial EPA oversight of refineries. EPA's current oversight authority of refineries, which is based on protecting public health, would be shifted to DOE, whose primary goal is to maximize refinery output. DOE would be the lead agency for all refinery permits, siting, construction, expansion and operation. All other agencies would be required to comply with the schedules set by DOE, to the exclusion of local, state and federal agencies.


Chairman Pombo's bill would:

  • Waive any limitations on oil and gas development and drilling during supply disruptions. The heads of the Interior and Agriculture departments would be allowed to waive "any limitations on the timing of construction, drilling, or other operations related to any oil and gas lease or any pipeline right-of way..." in the event there is a "significant disruption to the supply of oil and gas to the United States either from domestic or foreign sources…..." For the most part, judicial review of such decisions would be prohibited, including all Bureau of Land Management leasing decisions, regardless of their legality. In addition, the measure calls for industry-paid consultants to review oil and gas drilling permit applications, a clear conflict of interest.
  • Expand the national environmental policy act (NEPA) exemptions given to the oil and gas industry in the recently passed energy bill. The exemptions, for environmental review and citizen input in decision-making, would apply to most oil and gas leasing and development decisions on federal lands.
  • Open offshore areas to oil and gas drilling. Drilling in federally protected areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) would be allowed, undermining states' control over their shorelines and coastal areas. Cash-strapped state legislatures essentially would be bribed to open their shorelines to oil and gas development. Although the current OCS moratoria would last until 2012, any state could immediately petition to allow leasing off its coast in exchange for 50 percent of the revenues from its OCS lands. There would be no restrictions or accounting requirements to ensure that the federal money is not used to fund environmentally harmful projects. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars could be diverted from the U.S. Treasury at a time when the federal budget is under severe strain.
  • Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. According to DOE's own analysis, drilling in the refuge wouldn't lower gas prices at all in the short term, and would only net consumers about a penny a gallon at peak production in 2025. Twenty years from now, gas prices would be just as high, the United States would still be importing most of its oil, and there would be an industrial wasteland where a wildlife refuge used to be.