In This Issue
The Senate adopted several climate-related amendments June 21 before passing a major energy bill that would boost auto efficiency standards and require a roughly five-fold increase in the use of biofuels.
The final amendment package that cleared the Senate without objection includes provisions that call for research into abrupt climate change, curbing emissions from the power plant that serves Capitol Hill and efforts to make federal buildings “greener” and more energy efficient.
Senators voted 65-27 for the final bill, with 20 Republicans siding with Democrats to pass the measure. Four Democrats opposed it. Beyond the vehicle mileage and biofuels increases, the bill would also create new laws against gasoline “price gouging,” boost appliance and lighting efficiency, further carbon sequestration testing, and seek to stimulate production of advanced technology cars. An agreement on the fuel economy plan earlier in the day helped clear the way, with the Senate now on record in favor of increasing corporate average fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
The underlying bill would create an expanded ethanol mandate to reach 36 billion gallons by 2022, 21 billion of which must be met with “advanced” biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol. The current renewable fuels standard targets 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.
Democrats were forced to drop two major proposals during the debate. They could not muster enough support for requiring utilities to provide 15 percent of their electric power from renewable sources by 2020, and the plan never came up for a vote. And senators did not agree to cloture on an energy tax package that would have created $28.5 billion in incentives for renewable power, biofuels, plug-in hybrids, clean coal and other technologies.
A House Science and Technology subcommittee approved on June 21 a trio of research bills addressing issues such as biofuels, carbon sequestration and solar energy.
The first bill, H.R. 2773 , the “Biofuels Research and Development Enhancement Act,” would authorize a series of new research programs and studies for the development of alternative fuels and increase the overall authorized spending levels for the Energy Department’s biofuel research programs.
The legislation would establish two new research efforts under the existing Bioenergy Research Program — one to study modifications of existing infrastructure or development of new infrastructure for biofuels and another to improve the energy efficiency of biorefineries. The subcommittee agreed to an amendment to the bill requiring those research programs to also examine the environmental impacts of biofuel production.
Additionally, the subcommittee approved H.R. 1933 , “The Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Storage Research,” which authorizes seven large-scale tests for sequestration of carbon dioxide.
The panel also approved H.R. 2774 , “The Solar Energy Research and Advancement Act,” which seeks to address several challenges to expanding the use of solar technology.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) does not intend to include new nationwide payments or crop insurance for biofuels crops in his version of the farm bill, the Agriculture Committee Chairman said on June 21.
Peterson said his farm bill attempt will include incentives and pilot programs to help get cellulosic ethanol refineries off the ground as part of the multibillion-dollar energy title his committee is expected to advance this summer. But he is “adamantly opposed” to setting up new nationwide crop insurance or subsidies for biofuels crops.
Biofuels advocates and some environmental groups have been pressing for the House and Senate to include an array of new incentives and payments in the next farm bill to help support biofuels. Among those, they want to pay farmers to grow switchgrass and other crops that could eventually be used for cellulosic ethanol, to help overcome the “chicken and the egg” conundrum of how to supply a not-yet booming market with not-yet abundant crops.
Two proposals in the Senate would pay farmers to plant biofuels crops. Another proposal from Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) would speed up crop insurance, which usually takes years for new crops, for feedstocks used to make biodiesel.
But Peterson said his biofuels pilot program, which he plans to add to the farm bill at the full committee level next month, would focus on demonstration projects centered around existing energy facilities. Peterson wants to use the projects to help farmers and energy developers learn how best to grow, harvest, store and move feedstocks for biofuels.
While leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee backed away June 18 from proposals that would retract California ‘s authority to regulate automobiles’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, lawmakers’ concerns about state-specific climate laws will remain a point of contention on Capitol Hill.
Key industry groups and a major labor union are urging Congress to set a single national GHG standard.
Congressional debates over federal pre-emption have closely tracked the development of U.S. environmental law, starting in the 1960s when California adopted the nation’s first auto-emission standards.
Recently, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) separately considered legislation to wipe out all state global warming laws and regulations, including California ‘s plan to cut emissions about 25 percent by 2020 and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in place for the northeastern United States. Both senators backed down amid vocal outcries from local officials and environmental groups.
Asked to describe his ideal legislative proposal, electric utility industry lobbyist Scott Segal called for a law that blocks any state program inconsistent with the federal program unless the state can make a significant case why it needs to be different.
Segal suggested Congress should set a bar high enough that no state can meet it. “The issue is too important, too expensive and too in need of a national response to let inconsistent state policies continue,” he said.
Several sources said they think the federal pre-emption issue will not show up until the very end of the debate, perhaps in the final stages of House-Senate deliberations.
The National Park Service asked Congress to allow snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, despite pledging to the public and stakeholders it would keep an open mind as it writes a new winter use plan.
A rider ensuring that snowmobiles can roam Yellowstone this winter free from litigation threats was included in the fiscal 2008 Interior spending bill the Senate Appropriations Committee approved June 21. The $27.2 billion measure would boost spending for the Interior Department, U.S. EPA and Forest Service.
Because the winter use planning process is so controversial and expensive — NPS has spent $10 million since 2000 — the agency made a concerted effort to reach out to stakeholders, including environmental groups and motorized recreation advocates who challenged previous rules in court, noted Tim Stevens, Yellowstone program manager at the National Parks Conservation Association, an advocacy group.
The draft plan would also allow a maximum of 720 snowmobiles in the park, using best available technology and requiring commercial guides. Up to 140 snowmobiles would be allowed in neighboring Grand Teton National Park, without commercial guides. The preferred alternative would also cap the number of multipassenger snowcoaches at 78 and close the Sylvan Pass area to all motorized oversnow travel, a provision opposed by local officials.
But environmentalists and several former NPS directors oppose the plan, saying the agency should eliminate snowmobiles entirely in favor of snowcoaches. EPA said the draft plan does not go far enough to protect the park’s human health, wildlife, air or quiet spaces, and would cause a five-fold increase in carbon monoxide emissions and a 17-fold increase in hydrocarbon emissions in the park
“I’m frankly perplexed why the Park Service would do this,” Stevens added. “It is sad to see the agency lobbying against its own science and the law and public opinion.”
Wyoming state Sen. John Barrasso (R) will fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat caused by the death earlier in June of Sen. Craig Thomas (R), Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) announced June 22.
State law required Freudenthal to choose from three nominees chosen by the Wyoming Republican Party. The other two candidates were Tom Sansonetti, a former U.S. assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources, and former state Treasurer Cynthia Lummis.
Sources: Energy and Environment Daily and Greenwire