WASHINGTON - May 15 - With a flurry of activity in Congress this week and next on environmental issues, the Sierra Club provides some brief summaries on several of the major issues and our position. Look for critical Appropriations votes on offshore drilling and clean water. It is once again the time of year when many in Congress attempt to use high energy prices as justification for short-sighted, outdated and dirty energy policies instead of the smart energy solutions that could ease the burden on consumers while protecting the environment at the same time.
1. House Interior/EPA Appropriations
Looking extremely similar to last year's bill, the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill was marked up in committee last week with a floor vote expected on Thursday. There are several Sierra Club-supported amendments addressing controversial issues including: a motion to strike Rep. Peterson's (R-PA) amendment which lifts the moratorium on offshore natural gas drilling; a Chabot-Andrews amendment to end decades of subsidies that support clearcutting logging in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska; an amendment to prohibit the EPA from implementing a 2003 policy directive that eliminates Clean Water Act protections for many small streams, wetlands, ponds and other waters around the country; a measure to limit the amount of resources that the federal government is using to grant oil and gas companies royalty relief; and an amendment that will ensure federal agencies take the next steps needed to achieve the promise of environmental justice in federal environmental programs.
Under the guise of "forest recovery," Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) has introduced a bill which would fast track destructive logging projects in National Forests affected by natural disturbances such as fires, droughts, or windstorms. The Walden logging bill, HR 4200, would remove basic protections for clean water and wildlife habitat by cutting meaningful environmental review and excluding public involvement. This harmful bill has passed the House Resources and Agriculture committees; a floor vote is expected this week.
3. Fuel Economy Standards
Congressman Barton (R-TX) has introduced a bill in response to President Bush’s call for the authority to radically restructure Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by replacing the current fleetwide average with size based standards. Congressmen Sherwood Boehlert and Ed Markey offered an amendment to raise fuel economy standards to 33 miles per gallon for both cars and trucks by 2016. The amendment failed in committee but is expected to come back for a floor vote next week. The amendment, similar to those proposed in previous years, picked up four additional votes in the Energy and Commerce committee--long known for its hostility on this issue, leaving supporters optimistic ahead of the floor vote. The biggest single step we can take toward saving consumers money at the pump and reducing our dangerous oil addiction is making our cars go farther on a gallon of gas. Implementing the Boehlert-Markey proposal to increase CAFE standards to 33 miles per gallon over ten years time would save the average driver nearly $500 a year at today’s gas prices. By contrast, Barton’s bill provides no minimum fuel economy standard, would require years of study and rulemaking before any action is taken, and promises no actual oil savings or savings for consumers at the pump.
4. Additional Energy
In the coming weeks, both the House and Senate are expected to move on more energy measures. Of course, we can certainly anticipate maneuvering to open America's special places to more oil and gas drilling including efforts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and open additional acreage in the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling. Senator Domenici is agitating for floor time to debate his bill to open up 3.6 million acres of previously protected areas in the eastern and central Gulf. There are rumblings on both sides of the Hill that leaders want to push yet again votes on opening the Arctic Refuge perhaps paired with some modest increase in CAFE standards in hopes of making the measure seem palatable.
5. Global Warming
This week could see a first-ever House floor vote on global warming. Currently attached to the FY 2007 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill is a non-binding Sense of the Congress resolution regarding climate change. While the Senate has had previous votes on global warming measures, never has a direct vote on the matter come before the House. A vote to strip the resolution from the bill could prove politically problematic in an election year during which a strong public consensus on the reality of the dangers posed by climate change is emerging.