OVERNIGHT ENERGY: GOP sharpens climate message before vote


State of Play: House Republicans are honing their political message ahead of this week’s vote on spending legislation that would block funding for Environmental Protection Agency climate rules.

The effort comes as House Democrats are alleging the provision – part of a catch-all spending bill to keep the government running through September – will result in a series of unintended consequences.

On the floor Wednesday, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who oversees the panel that crafts EPA’s budget, said the rider was narrowly tailored to only affect the greenhouse gas permitting requirements, which EPA began phasing in this year.

"It is not intended to affect permitting or other matters unrelated to greenhouse gas emissions, such as construction starts or permit approvals," he said.

Simpson attacked a “preliminary analysis” the Obama administration is circulating that said the rider would create wide-spread industry uncertainty, delay the construction of new projects and result in job losses

“Extreme statements are made all the time on both sides of the issue and I think the administration is making some extreme statements,” he told reporters in the Capitol.

But Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the rider could result in major permitting delays for the construction of power plants and, eventually, job losses.

“I think this rider is going to be a job loser,” Waxman told E2 Wednesday evening after criticizing the proposal on the House floor.

“I think it could stop the permitting by EPA for a lot of projects that people here would want to support,” he said. “If they end up voting for a provision to do that, they’re going to find a lot of unhappy people.”

Waxman has also claimed that bills to block EPA fly in the face of the dominant scientific view that the planet is warming and human actions are a major cause.

But Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) – who is a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee – defended the proposal against criticism that it's anti-science.

"Is this a debate about climate science?" Whitfield asked Simpson in a staged conversation on the House floor Wednesday.

Simpson replied: "It is not even necessary to be a climate change skeptic to be an EPA greenhouse gas regulation skeptic. These regulations are all economic pain for little if any environmental gain.”

The final House vote on the fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution is expected as early as Thursday.

The resolution is expected to pass. But the political tenor of the climate fight is nonetheless key because it's the first showdown in the new Congress over emissions rules, and Republicans are planning to bring up even more aggressive measures to overturn EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gases.

NEWS BITES:

Poll: Majority of Americans oppose efforts to block EPA climate rules

A poll commissioned by the American Lung Association shows that Americans are largely supportive of stricter air pollution standards, including new greenhouse gas rules.

Asked if they support “stricter limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that power plants and other industrial facilities can release,” 47 percent of Americans said they strongly favor such limits and 30 percent said they somewhat favor the limits. About 21 percent of Americans say they oppose such efforts.

Asked about proposals to block EPA’s climate rules, 64 percent of Americans say they either strongly or somewhat oppose the efforts, while 30 percent say they support the efforts.

The poll is the latest effort by public health groups to counter the GOP push to block EPA regulation of emissions from power plants, refineries and other facilities.

Clean air, enviro groups lay out opposition to House spending bill

State air regulators and environmental groups are calling on lawmakers to reject provisions in the CR that block funding for those climate rules and other environmental regulations.

In a letter sent to lawmakers Wednesday, National Association of Clean Air Agencies President Bill Becker outlined the proposals' potential consequences. If passed, the restrictions on EPA would “lead to greater regulatory uncertainty, impede efforts to promote energy efficiency and, in some jurisdictions, result in de facto construction bans for sources subject to preconstruction permitting requirements for GHGs,” he said.

The League of Conservation Voters raised similar concerns in a separate letter to lawmakers Wednesday.

“If enacted into law, this bill would have devastating impacts on public health and the environment,” LCV President Gene Karpinski said in the letter. “Indeed, the sweeping assaults on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the wildlife and wild places Americans hold dear make this the most anti-environmental piece of legislation in recent memory.”

The letter includes a list of dozens of amendments it opposes, ranging from proposals to cut funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to proposals to cut funding for international climate programs.

DOE has modeled clean energy standard scenarios

The Energy Department has conducted a series of analyses modeling the potential outcomes of a clean energy standard, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday.

So far, the analysis shows that a standard requiring that 80 percent of the country’s electricity come from low-carbon sources by 2035 could be fairly divided between various energy sources, Chu told reporters. President Obama pitched a clean energy standard in his State of the Union address.

“It gives us at least a sense on first pass that no single sector will dominate,” Chu said. “A clean energy standard will not automatically say that everything goes to coal or everything goes to natural gas or everything goes to renewables.” Chu, responding to criticism from Republicans, said the standard won’t give preference to one energy source over another.

“This is not about picking winners,” he said.

House freshmen call for less stringent boiler rules

A coalition of freshmen lawmakers wrote to Administrator Lisa Jackson Wednesday calling on the agency to issue less stringent final regulations for limiting air pollution from industrial boilers.

The letter was signed by 61 members of the House. Only one Democrat, Rep. Terri Sewell (Ala.), signed on. It builds on a similar letter from 13 Senate freshmen.

A coalition of lawmakers and industry groups have railed against the agency’s proposed regulations for industrial boilers, arguing they are impossible to meet. The agency has said its trying to address concerns as it crafts final rules.

Landrieu supports Vitter’s Interior nominee hold

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) threw her support behind Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) hold on a key Interior Department nominee over frustrations about the administration offshore drilling policies.

Vitter said Tuesday he would block the nomination of Dan Ashe to head Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service until the department issues 15 deepwater drilling permits. The administration, Vitter argues, has imposed a “de facto moratorium” on offshore drilling.

Landrieu echoed those statements Wednesday. “I support Senator Vitter’s hold on the confirmation of a new director for the Fish and Wildlife Service until the Interior Department issues new deepwater permits,” she said in a statement.

“Louisiana’s congressional delegation will continue to apply pressure on the administration to end what amounts to an ongoing moratorium on oil and gas drilling that is costing Louisiana thousands of jobs, killing our economy in South Louisiana and is jeopardizing national security,” she added.

Landrieu put a hold on Jacob Lew, Obama’s nominee to head the White House Office of Management and Budget last year over similar issues. Landrieu has since lifted the hold and Lew is now hold the position of Obama’s budget director.

Whitfield eyes transmission siting legislation . . .

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) told a conference of state power regulators Wednesday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should have a stronger hand in siting power transmission lines.

Whitfield – who heads the Energy and Power Subcommittee – called for “improvements” in a speech before the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

“This improvement may mean clarifying FERC’s authority to intervene in transmission projects when states do not act to approve transmission projects, or when the states say, ‘no,’” Whitfield told the state regulators, according to his prepared remarks.

He noted that a provision in 2005 energy legislation gave FERC so-called backstop-siting authority, but that a court ruling limited the power to cases in which states fail to act, not when they deny applications.

“I’m sure many of you in this audience welcomed the court‟s ruling, but frankly I don’t think it is representative of Congress’ intent in the 2005 statute, and much as I would prefer that we avoid federal legislation in this area, this one may well require it,” Whitfield said.

. . . and revives attacks on Obama’s ‘clean energy standard’

Whitfield also attacked President Obama’s call for a “clean energy standard” under which utilities would be required to supply escalating amounts of power from low-carbon sources. Obama is calling for obtaining 80 percent of U.S. power renewables, nuclear and other “clean” sources by 2035.

“It seems to me both unrealistic and frankly, unfair, to try to impose a federal clean energy or renewable energy standard on utility providers. It may work in some areas, but it doesn’t work in others,” he said.

“Some states already have a renewable or clean energy requirement, and I think that’s fine. But I am not an advocate for a federal standard,” Whitfield said.

Markey: No decision yet on climate amendment

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said it’s unclear whether Democrats will seek to force a vote on removing language from the CR that prohibits funding for EPA greenhouse gas regulations.

Such an amendment would very likely fail, but would nonetheless put members on record on the issue – and it remains unclear whether that’s part of the Democrats’ political strategy at the moment.

“Mr. Waxman and I will have to get together and discuss what the best course of action will be,” Markey told reporters in the Capitol, referring to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Oil groups, ethanol industry trade blows on CR amendment

As we noted earlier Wednesday, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association led an industry letter backing an amendment on the House CR to prevent 15 percent ethanol blends (E15) in gasoline.

Here’s a few of the groups that signed on: Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; American Bakers Association; American Meat Institute; American Petroleum Institute; California Dairies, Inc.; Grocery Manufacturers Association; and the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

The Renewable Fuels Association, which is a major ethanol industry trade group, struck back at Rep. John Sullivan’s (R-Okla.) amendment, which as of this writing had yet to receive a vote.

The group’s statement: “Having failed to stop the growth of American ethanol through the legislative and regulatory process, the oil industry and its cohorts are attempting this backdoor maneuver that would lead down the road of strengthening America’s addiction to imported oil.  E15 has been thoroughly tested by scientists and engineers at DOE and EPA and been deemed a safe and effective fuel for those vehicles approved.”

ON TAP THURSDAY


Energy Secretary Chu talks electricity

Chu will give the closing keynote address at the National Electricity Forum, which is co-hosted by the Energy Department and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Mark Ruffalo to talk about natural gas drilling

Actor Mark Ruffalo is coming to Washington Thursday to talk about the environmental implications of natural gas drilling. Ruffalo will also defend the Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland,” which has come under attack from the natural gas industry in recent weeks. Josh Fox, the director of the film, will also be in town. Fox and Ruffalo will meet with Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Rush Holt (D-NJ).

White House science chief faces skeptical crowd

John Holdren, the White House’s top science adviser, will appear before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee to defend the administration’s proposed fiscal year 2012 R&D budget.

The hearing could feature a clash over climate change. Holdren last month cited the need to “educate” GOP climate skeptics about the robust evidence of human-induced global warming. Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas) is one of those skeptics.

Green group issues Capitol Hill scorecard

The League of Conservation Voters will unveil its 2010 National Environmental Scorecard, which rates every lawmakers' voting record (from a green perspective).


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT


We began the day with a look at a House Republican’s attempt to block the reorganization of a federal climate change program, and from there provided an update on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s structure and their hearing on the Energy Department’s budget plan. We also noted that Energy Secretary Steven Chu had some tough words for clean energy R&D cuts in a House GOP spending plan.

From there, we looked at concerns about a major Middle East oil shipping route; reported on refiners and other industry groups fighting to block higher ethanol blends in gasoline; and noted that Senate Democrats’ “win the future” plan is stuffed with energy proposals.

But wait, there’s more! We reported that Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) isn’t budging (for now) on his decision to block an Interior Department nominee – a hold motivated by Vitter’s anger over Interior’s offshore drilling policy. We also told you about powerful industry groups pushing the House to block EPA climate rules; and President Obama’s ideas for bolstering conservation.

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

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