When the Senate first started debating an energy bill, the legislative proposal was light on broad attacks on environmental protections, and concentrated on infrastructure improvements and energy efficiency. Environmentalists, in turn, expressed cautious optimism about the first major update to the nation’s energy policy in eight years.
“We’ve always been concerned that this was going to be a Christmas tree for drilling proposals, or to weaken some of the measures the president’s done on climate [change],” Athan Manuel, director of the lands protection program for the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress in February. “It hasn’t played out that way.”
This cautious optimism quickly turned into full-blown opposition when lawmakers made myriad controversial amendments to the bill that went on to pass the Senate. A month has passed since then, but opposition to congressional energy bills has only intensified. The House voted Wednesday to replace the Senate’s more bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 with the House’s more controversial version, and groups said this bill attacks a long list of green policies, including core provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act intended to ensure forest conservation, and more.
Can Burning Forests To Power The Grid Be Carbon Neutral? The Senate Just Said ‘Yes’Climate by CREDIT: (AP Photo by Jeff Barnard) When the first major update to the nation’s energy laws in nearly a…thinkprogress.org“This is the legislative equivalent of the middle finger,” Radha Adhar, a federal policy representative for the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress. Lawmakers “are obviously not serious about working in a bipartisan way on energy policy.” Indeed, the final tally was 241 to 178. Only eight House Democrats voted in favor of the amended version of the bill that the House and Senate will try to reconcile in June, according to published reports.
To start, both bills aim to modernize energy infrastructure like the electric grid, streamline the permitting process for pipelines and natural gas exports, increase investment in fossil fuel research, and improve job training in energy. “This bill is about jobs. It’s about keeping energy affordable. It’s about boosting our energy security here and across the globe,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said on the House floor, according to The Hill.
But environmentalist said the bill puts barriers to energy efficiency standards for buildings, locks in fossil fuel generation and consumption well into the future, and creates new subsidies for coal and nuclear power. It also carries dangerous provisions that the Obama Administration has opposed and could use as justification for a veto, they said. For instance, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, or H.R. 2647, would allow clear-cutting of up to eight square miles in certain forests without an environmental assessment, and it would hamper the ability of citizens to protest resource management decisions through the courts. It “basically expedites logging across the entire forest system,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Hartl said other provisions: resurrect the Keystone XL Pipeline that Obama rejected but that is now under litigation; override protections for the gray wolf, salmon, and other fisheries species under the Endangered Species Act that affect water distribution in California; and even block efforts to crack down on the illegal ivory trade.
“It’s an insane list,” said Hartl, “It really illustrates just how hostile the House Republicans are because whatever else you might think about particular energy issues, I don t see how making it harder to address the slaughter of elephants has anything to do with [energy].”
For some environmentalists like Hartl, the bill is so egregious that it’s beyond repair, even if a compromise between the Senate and House is reached in the few weeks before Congress goes on recess.
“This legislation now is so eroded down with horrible provisions that it’s probably not salvageable, and even if they tried to salvage it, they are not going to get a good deal,” he said.