The Senate began consideration this week of an energy bill, a version of which was previously passed in the House of Representatives. It is expected to vote on the bill next week, assuming all goes as planned.
This bill comes just over a month after world leaders gathered in Paris, where a new agreement was reached to address climate change on a global scale. Headlines from numerous news outlets at the end of the summit suggested the agreement reached may mark the “end of the fossil fuel era.”
Unfortunately — but not surprisingly — it seems the US Congress did not get the message.
Reporting on the energy bill currently being debated hails it as the first major bipartisan energy bill in nearly a decade. But, party politics aside, the energy bill currently being considered in Congress is simply more of the same failed energy policy of the past. It represents another example of our nation’s energy policy being completely divorced from our climate imperatives.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given the massive amounts of money flowing from the fossil fuel industry to members of Congress in the form of campaign finance, but we should still express our disappointment in no uncertain terms.
While there are some positive provisions pushing energy efficiency and other laudable climate-friendly goals, it’s riddled with provisions propping up the fossil fuel industry at a time when we need to be moving boldly in a new direction.
For example, hidden in section 3402 of this typically mammoth bill is a provision to provide some $2.4 billion in additional support for new coal technologies. That’s right, this energy bill would offer a multi-billion dollar lifeline to a coal industry that’s otherwise being run out of town because it’s a climate disaster. This is $2.4 billion to an industry that is handing out bonuses to its executives as it cuts jobs and declares bankruptcy. It’s another $2.4 billion to the fossil fuel industry that already receives some $17 billion in federal production subsidies every year .
In addition, this bill expedites approval of infrastructure to support the export of liquified natural gas abroad. Increased natural gas exports incentivizes more dangerous fracking (which the bill also seeks to deregulate!) but also serves to further global dependence on fossil fuels when we know we must move in a new direction.
Over the coming week, additional amendments to the bill may be voted on that, if passed, could:
- incentivize the extraction of dirty tar sands, oil shale and other extreme forms of oil in the United States;
- roll back new regulations for offshore drilling intended to safeguard against extreme blowouts like that seen during the Deepwater Horizon gulf disaster;
- expedite processes for considering cross-border pipelines in order to fast track approval of future oil industry proposals;
- roll back new regulations protecting communities from hazardous coal ash;
- create a monetary “prize” for the further development of the false solution of carbon capture and storage; and
- overturn the Obama administration’s recent action to place a moratorium on selling off coal leases on public lands.
Now, there are some noble Senators attempting to strengthen the bill with provisions to improve the bill. Notably, Senator Schatz of climate-vulnerable Hawaii has offered an amendment that would phase out a suite of egregious subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Other positive amendments push more investment in renewables and reinstate the crude oil export ban. These are valiant efforts, but most likely will fail, if they are even allowed a vote.
So, at the end of the day, this energy bill will represent another reminder that our energy policy and our climate policy are disastrously out of synch. Some are calling for a “scoring” of all energy bills to determine whether they would result in increased greenhouse gas emissions. At a time of climate crisis, that should be a no-brainer…and in fact we should go one step further: if an energy policy does in fact increase greenhouse gas emissions, it should be rejected. Plain and simple. If our energy policy is not serving to move us forward in the fight against climate change, it’s not an energy policy we should pursue.
In other words, we need to apply a climate test to our energy policy. If such a climate test (similar to what President Obama applied to the Keystone XL pipeline) were to be applied to this bill, there’s little doubt it would fail.
It’s time our energy policy matched our climate imperatives. It’s time our energy policy passed the climate test.