Five Awful Things in the House Zombie Energy Bill

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Friends of the Earth

Five Awful Things in the House Zombie Energy Bill

The American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act is a Frankenstein’s monster of bad energy policy. (Photo: Fr. Dougal McGuire/Creative Commons)

In preparation for Election Day—or maybe Halloween?—the House leadership has assembled a Frankenstein’s monster of bad energy policy. Pieced together from the remains of 13 separate bills already passed by the House, but justifiably ignored in the Senate, these zombies are being raised from the dead for one final piece of political theatre before the election.

As Lindsay Abrams at Salon points out,  the choice to revive a bundle of hyper-partisan bills  just weeks before an election amounts to legislative trolling on an epic scale. For Americans who don’t take kindly to Congressional trolling and who oppose climate disruption, unregulated drilling and an extra layer of coal dust in their lungs, Friends of the Earth offers a guide to these walking dead policy measures.

Here are the five worst things the Frankenstein act, officially called the American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act, would do:

  • Approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Forget the fact that the pipeline has no route through Nebraska. Forget the fact that tar sands are among the dirtiest, least economical fossil fuels in existence. And forget the fact that the State Department has been embarrassed during nearly every stage of the review process by conflict of interest revelations. Forget all of that because the bill would grant TransCanada immediate approval to build its pipeline. If you haven’t lost count yet, this is the ninth time the House has voted to circumvent the president and ram through Keystone XL.
  • Frack everything. Thanks to a little-known loophole from 2005, arguably originating from Dick Cheney himself, fracking is exempt from key provisions of some of America’s most important environmental laws. Under the Frankenstein bill, federal fracking oversight would be stymied even further. This would work by restricting the federal government from implementing regulations if states can plausibly claim that the issue is already being dealt with. So suppose the federal government wanted to regulate methane emissions from fracking wells on public lands—which it does—and a bunch of states preemptively passed weak, industry-friendly measures that claim to address the problem. Regulators at the Department of the Interior would be forced to defer to those weaker rules for any fracking within those states on federal lands. This is a scary possibility, especially with groups like ALEC churning out extra-soft fracking rules for state legislators.
  • Encourage dirty Infrastructure. The horrors don’t stop there. The bill would also provide incentives for companies to drill more often and in more places. It would accelerate the authorization of natural gas exports, allowing oil and gas companies to more easily profit from energy-hungry countries in Asia. Although gas boosters claim that more exports mean lower prices and enhanced national security, the reality would be a boon for frackers and a disaster for the climate. And just in case there were any roadblocks in the way of transporting that natural gas, the bill would also make it easier for companies to get permits to build pipelines by disallowing sufficient time for environmental reviews.
  • Drill everywhere. Using the spurious logic that more drilling equals lower energy prices and not just inflated profits, the bill would open new public lands for oil and natural gas extraction and make it far easier for companies to get leasing rights. This means new offshore leasing areas off the coasts of California, Virginia and South Carolina, bringing the risks of “drill, baby, drill” to more coastal communities that need clean waters and shorelines to support their local economies. As an added bonus, it would leave the rest of us on the hook for things like the costs of oil spill clean-ups, air and water pollution-related health costs, and the inevitable climate disruption resulting from the exploitation of dirty fuels.
  • Promote the most extreme energy. We need to leave two-thirds of the world’s already discovered fossil fuels in the ground in order to have a chance at keeping warming below 2℃. So the last thing we need is to double-down on extreme, extra dirty energy sources that have never been economically viable. Nevertheless, meet oil shale, a thick sludge not dissimilar from tar sands. If enough money and energy-intensive processing are applied, this sludge can be brewed into synthetic crude oil which can then be turned into familiar products like gasoline and diesel. The resulting fuel source boasts 50 percent more emissions, per barrel, than traditional crude oil. Even though it has never really been successful in commercial quantities, for reasons of economics and engineering, that has not stopped the bill from requiring that at least 125,000 acres of public shale reserves to be auctioned for development by 2016.

Lukas Ross

Lukas Ross is a climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth where he works on greening the federal budget and ending subsidies for polluters.

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