FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Sierra Club
Congress Update: Will BP Spill Fuel New Energy Policy?
A look at upcoming action in the House and Senate
WASHINGTON - September 6 -
After a month of state fairs and baby-kissing, Congress returns this week for a final "burst" of activity before returning to the campaign trail. During September we expect a number of energy and environmental issues to be debated, and possibly even voted on, in Congress. Sierra Club expects the aftermath of BP's Alaska disaster to fuel hearings and potentially some floor action. Below is a brief look at the action of particular concern in Congress in the coming weeks:
1. BP Hearings:
Both the House and Senate are expected to hold hearings looking into what went wrong in Prudhoe Bay where BP has had to finally face the impacts of neglect and poorly maintained infrastructure. We can expect members of Congress to respond to this disaster with a variety of policy options--some which would help America reduce its oil dependence, and some that will simply repeat the mistakes of the past:
*Off-Shore Oil Drilling:
In late June the U.S. House voted 232-187 to lift the offshore drilling moratorium and replace it with a process that makes states jump through bureaucratic hoops to regain protections they currently enjoy, would allow drilling as close as 3 miles to shore if states choose, and could cost the federal government billions of dollars. On August 1, the Senate passed an offshore drilling bill (71-25) limited in scope to 8 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. Senate leaders have said only a bill limited to Gulf of Mexico drilling can pass this year; House leaders, including Rep. Pombo, have been quite outspoken in support of more expansive drilling proposals.
*Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:
The Sierra Club also expects attempts to once again introduce bills opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but a vote on such legislation is unlikely before Election Day.
The environmental community will hold a press briefing on these issues on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 12, more details to follow.
---While it is expected the Congress will focus any energy debates on increased supply, there are several forward-thinking proposals before Congress right now that could do much more to end our oil dependence, save consumers money and fight global warming:
2. Global Warming
The Safe Climate Act (H.R. 5642) introduced by Rep. Waxman (D-CA) begins reducing global warming emissions in 2011 by 2% per year, reaching 1990 emissions levels by 2020. In 2020, emissions reductions increase to 5% per year, resulting in emissions falling to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The world?s leading climate scientists tell us that emissions reductions of this magnitude will be necessary to avert the most destructive consequences of global warming. Nearly identical legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeffords (I-VT). The Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act (S.3698) also requires global warming emissions to fall to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
While it is unlikely that either the House or Senate will hold votes on this legislation before the November elections, for the first time Congress has introduced legislation that follows the advice of the world?s leading climate scientists and requires the necessary steps to stop global warming and protect the climate.
3. Fuel Economy
In addition to the Congressional efforts on global warming, legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to increase the fuel economy of America?s cars and trucks. In the Senate, Sen. Feinstein introduced the ?Ten in Ten Fuel Economy Act? (S. 3543) along with 12 other Senate cosponsors. This act would require fuel economy standards for both cars and light trucks to reach 35 miles per gallon by 2017. In addition, Sen. Obama and Sen. Lugar have introduced (S. 3694) that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to increase fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks 4% per year unless the agency can prove that the improvements are technically infeasible. On the House side, Rep. Boehlert (R-NY) and Rep. Markey (D-MA) continue to push for their legislation (H.R. 3762) to increase fuel economy standards to 33 miles per gallon by 2015. Support for the legislation has grown to over 100 co-sponsors.
While it is unlikely that the Senate will consider a vote on fuel economy before the election, the upcoming hearings on the BP pipeline and the impact of gas prices on consumers may bring this issue to the floor. It is unlikely that there will be a vote on Boehlert-Markey, but with the retirement of Chairman Boehlert he may press for a vote on his bill.
-----Energy will not be the only environmental issue in front of Congress this month, below are additional items likely to see action:
4. Chemical Security
The "Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006" (H.R. 5695) is likely to come to the House floor this month. To protect plant workers, emergency responders and community residents, the bill would require high-risk chemical facilities to provide the Department of Homeland Security with an assessment of the best technology to reduce the consequences of a successful terrorist attack. DHS must approve these facility plans.
5. Persistent Organic Pollutant legislation
Efforts to make it difficult for EPA to regulate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) could also come up for a vote. This legislation would amend federal toxic substances and pesticides law. The legislation that passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee would preempt more stringent state and local laws on POPs and make it very difficult for the EPA to regulate newly-identified POPs. This bill is supported by the Bush administration and the chemical industry and opposed by public health officials and environmentalists. (The vote would be on H.R. 4591 and H.R. 3849, which are being combined over the recess.)
6. Cost of Cleaning Up Water Supplies Contaminated by Factory Farms
There is a chance a bill to exempt livestock waste from polluter-pays and toxics right-to-know legislation may be marked up in the Senate Environment committee this month. S. 3681 would exempt livestock operations from paying cleanup costs for damage their waste has caused to city water supplies and from notification requirements for releases of toxic air emissions.