Environmental group concerned about coal provision in Ex-Im bill

An environmental group expressed concerns on Friday that a newly introduced Senate measure to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank would eliminate financing restrictions for overseas coal plants.

Friends of the Earth on Friday argued that bipartisan legislation introduced this week will allow the bank to resume the practice of funding coal plants abroad regardless of whether they adopt carbon capture technology required under new rules implemented in 2013. 

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Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-W.Va.), who pushed for the provision and eventually dropped it from the Ex-Im bill last summer, joined Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby MORE (R-Ill.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (D-N.D.) on a new measure that would reauthorize the bank through September 2019. 

The measure would not allow Ex-Im to discriminated against any type of energy source or deny financing based solely on the industry requesting the funding, opening the door to roll back the Obama administration's coal restrictions on the bank. 

That measure could reignite tensions between the coal industry, environmentalists and Democrats who have expressed concerns in the past about dropping the new regulations on the bank and what plants they finance. 

Doug Norlen, with Friends of the Earth, said the "provisions are ironic because Ex-Im Bank financing for fossil fuel projects, especially coal, discriminates against typically poor communities by polluting air and water, harming human health, committing human rights abuses and fostering corruption."

"The Kirk-Heitkamp discriminates against the public good while lining the pockets of wealthy fossil fuel executives," he said. 

Instead, Norlen said his group supports another Senate measure introduced Thursday without the coal provision by Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump's new labor chief alarms Democrats, unions Al Franken: It's time to start taking Trump 'literally' MORE (D-Minn.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (D-Calif.).

He said that measure leaves out the fossil fuel language and increases environmental and transparency requirements.

Manchin tried to push the coal measure in an Ex-Im bill last year but, amid growing pressure from Democrats, pulled it in favor of pursuing an amendment that would allow U.S. companies to export the "best commercially available clean coal technology" to foreign countries.

Meanwhile, business groups pressed Congress to swiftly pass a measure that would reauthorize the bank. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) said lawmakers need to work fast to get the bank's charter renewed before it expires June 30.

Congress gave the bank a short-term reprieve in October, setting the funding deadline midway through this year.

Christopher Wenk, the Chamber’s executive director of International Policy, said that for the "small- and mid-sized businesses that rely on Ex-Im to secure commercial financing, legislation to renew the bank’s charter can’t be passed soon enough."

Lauren Airey, director of trade facilitation policy at NAM, said the "two bills are an important and welcome step in ensuring that manufacturers will have the tools they need to compete in a tough global economy."

She said that Ex-Im "fills a much-needed gap in export credit financing in the United States — one that private banks cannot fill."

"We hope this legislation will spur quick Senate action on the Ex-Im Bank in the coming weeks," she said. 

But, so far, Congress hasn't made much headway in either chamber. 

House Republicans turned back two procedural attempts by Democrats this week to bring legislation to the floor.

There are a couple of measures in the House but no sign as to when or if GOP leaders will allow for consideration of legislation. 

A recent poll by Beyond the Beltway Insights — a joint partnership between SKDKnickerbocker and Benenson Strategy Group — showed that 54 percent of registered voters who heard a description of the bank agree with supporters who say that "Congress should keep the bank operating because it supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and helps American small businesses compete successfully against countries like China that provide similar support for their exports.

The Shaheen measure would provide funding to 2022, three years longer than Kirk-Heitkamp, would increase the bank’s lending cap by $20 billion over that period and would increase loans to small businesses by 5 percent.