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Legislative Watch May 25, 2011

Legislative Watch

Posted May 25, 2011 in U.S. Law and Policy

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Since returning from recess on 5/2 the House and Senate have spent much of their time on legislation prompted by the public's concern with gasoline prices.

Appropriations

On 5/11 the House Appropriations Committee took its first official step in setting spending levels for fiscal year 2012, which begins 10/1. The committee announced the total spending levels for each of its subcommittees, setting the stage for a long battle with the Senate and the Obama administration over budget cuts. The subcommittee that handles the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency saw its funding reduced to a level last seen in fiscal year 2004 (not accounting for inflation). Interior and Environment Subcommittee chair Simpson (R-ID) said he would seek input from the agencies on how best to cut their fiscal 2012 budgets.

Energy

On 5/12 the House Armed Services Committee voted to eliminate a ban on the military purchasing dirty non-conventional fuels. As part of its consideration of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 1540, the committee voted to exempt the Department of Defense from Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Section 526 prevents federal agencies from procuring fuels with higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels. The proscribed fuels include liquid coal and tar sands oil. The defense bill will move to the floor the week of 5/23.

Oil Policy

The House passed three bills, introduced by Natural Resources Committee chair Hastings (R-WA), that would expand offshore oil drilling while weakening federal oversight.  On 5/5 the House passed H.R. 1230 by a vote of 266-149, with 33 Democrats supporting the proposal and two Republicans opposing it. The bill would require leases for drilling to be offered in areas off the coast of Virginia and in the western Gulf of Mexico that were withdrawn in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The bill would also extinguish legal challenges to the environmental impact statements prepared for drilling in the western Gulf, even though those documents were prepared before the Gulf disaster. On 5/11 the House passed H.R. 1229 by a vote of 263-163, with 28 Democrats voting for the bill and no Republicans opposing it. H.R. 1229 would set a 30-day deadline for the review of drilling permit applications. Finally, on 5/12 the House passed H.R. 1231 by a vote of 243-179, with 21 Democrats voting for passage and nine Republicans opposing it. The most far-reaching of the three measures, H.R. 1231 would mandate oil and gas leasing along the coast from Maine to North Carolina, off of southern California and in the Arctic.

On 5/17, on a procedural vote, the Senate rejected a bill introduced by Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) to end several subsidies for the five largest oil companies. The bill, S. 940, failed by a vote of 52-48 because 60 votes were needed. Two Republicans -- Sen. Snowe (ME) and Sen. Collins (ME) -- voted to end the subsidies, while three Democrats -- Sens. Landrieu (LA), Nelson (NE) and Begich (AK) -- supported the subsidies.

On 5/18, on another procedural vote, the Senate voted 42-57 against a counter-proposal by Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY). Sen. McConnell's measure, S. 953, included the language of H.R. 1229 and H.R. 1230. Additionally, this bill would have mandated lease sales in the Arctic Ocean that the Obama administration had canceled before the Gulf oil disaster. Every Democrat voted against Sen. McConnell's measure along with five Republicans: Sens. DeMint (SC), Lee (UT), Shelby (AL) Snowe (ME) and Vitter (LA). Not all the no votes were based on environmental concerns.

Wildlife

On 5/12 the House Natural Resources Committee's Fisheries and Wildlife subcommittee held a hearing to advance legislation that would allow U.S. hunters to import trophies from Canadian polar bear hunts from years ago. The bill, H.R. 991, would apply to 41 hunters who killed polar bears before the animals were protected in May 2008 under the Endangered Species Act but did not receive permits to import their trophies.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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