Senate energy bill would fan the flames of climate change

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In a frantic attempt to demonstrate that Senate Republicans are capable of governing despite their shameful attempt to yank health insurance away from 22 million Americans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved in late June to advance a huge, 800-page energy bill to the Senate floor. In his rush to get something — anything — done, he bypassed the standard committee review process and pushed the legislation straight to the full Senate floor. 

There are plenty of compelling reasons for Senator Schumer (D-N.Y.) to marshal Democratic opposition to McConnell’s bad energy bill. The most basic is that Republicans and the Trump administration are clamoring for a win — literally anything they can point to as business getting done. They seek to strip healthcare from many of the most vulnerable Americans in order to generate huge tax cuts for the wealthiest few. This deplorable intention alone should motivate Democrats to resist everything Trump and the Republicans seek, including McConnell’s energy bill.

{mosads}But there’s more to the story. This bill, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, is a shameless giveaway to the polluting oil and gas industry. It would lock in our country’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels for decades to come and intentionally undermine critical state and federal efforts to promote clean, renewable energy — our only path to staving off the worst effects of impending climate chaos.


McConnell’s energy package would speed approval of exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more power to approve natural gas pipelines and spend nearly $200 million researching how to access methane, a greenhouse gas that traps 87-times more greenhouse gas heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, beneath the ocean floor. 

Expediting the build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure takes us in exactly the wrong direction at a time when we must urgently transition to a low-carbon economy. Building LNG export terminals would lead to expanded hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) across the country, meaning the development of new pipelines, new compressor stations and new gas storage facilities.

Increased fracking for natural gas would also feed the construction of new gas-fired power plants for domestic energy consumption — to say nothing of the inherent risks to air, water and human health fracking imposes on front-line communities where it occurs. 

Even with the incredible profit margins built into global fossil fuel markets, such large scale investment in new natural gas infrastructure will require decades to be recouped by corporations. Once pipelines are laid, export terminals are completed and wells are fracked, we can be sure such infrastructure will be operated until profits are returned. By that time, decades from now, it will be far too late to save us. 

In 2015, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a series of emission budget projections that detailed how much more carbon dioxide humans could emit before frightfully locking in the most serious impacts of climate change. IPCC identified a safe budget of 400 additional gigatonnes from 2011 on.

But already, since 2011, more than 50 percent of that budget — 215 gigatonnes — has already been emitted by humans. Already, the Earth is experiencing a significant increase in violent storms, droughts, floods, acidifying and rapidly warming oceans and altered growing seasons. 

The same day Mitch McConnell was maneuvering to bring his energy bill to the Senate floor, experts, including former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the IPCC, published a letter confirming that the next three years are crucial in determining our ability to keep global temperatures low enough to avoid climate chaos.

One example in the letter detailed how thawing of arctic frozen soils would release vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. This could set off a vicious feedback loop whereby more warming thaws more permafrost, which releases more greenhouse gases, causing ever more warming.

We cannot continue down this path. The Clean Energy Revolution must begin immediately. This means an immediate and dramatic shift to zero-emission wind and solar power. It means robust investments to deploy existing technologies and solutions for harnessing wind and solar power. It also requires big investments to upgrade energy efficiency and conservation — the easiest reductions to make are in energy we don’t need to use in the first place.

We need a New Deal-scale investment with Apollo Project-level innovation to drive the urgent transition to truly clean, renewable energy. It should have started a quarter-century ago, and if it had we’d be ahead of the game. Now, thanks to the delayers in the fossil fuel industry, there’s no margin left: We have to go as fast as is humanly possible.

But first things first: The Trump-McConnell dirty energy bill must not see the light of day. Sen. Schumer must marshal Democratic opposition to McConnell’s foolhardy legislation and ensure it goes nowhere. The future of our planet depends on it.

Wenonah Hauter is executive director of Food & Water Watch, a national advocacy group that focuses on corporate and government accountability relating to food, water and corporate overreach.. Bill McKibben is a founder of, an international environmental organization that opposes new coal, oil and gas projects and promotes research in clean energy technology. He teaches environmental studies at Middlebury College.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Carbon dioxide Climate change policy Fossil fuel Fuel gas greenhouse gases Industrial gases Liquefied natural gas Methane Mitch McConnell Natural gas
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