Legislative Watch September 28, 2010
Posted September 28, 2010
Congress returned from the August recess on 9/13, and will recess again, probably by 10/1, until after Election Day, when it will reconvene for a "lame duck" session.
Upon returning from the August recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee first scheduled, and then postponed, a vote on the fiscal year 2011 spending bill that includes the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency budgets. That bill could have become the vehicle for efforts to block the EPA from limiting global warming pollution. Sen. Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, has declined to predict whether such an effort to block the EPA would succeed. She explained the schedule change by saying that the panel needed time to consider a new Department of Interior request for an additional $100 million to enhance the regulation of offshore oil and gas drilling, which the Obama administration proposed on 9/13. The Senate could take up the issue of EPA climate regulation in the lame duck session, potentially considering Sen. Rockefeller's (D-WV) bill to prevent the EPA from requiring cuts in, or even working to develop, regulations for global warming pollution for two years (S. 3702).
Gulf Oil Disaster
A vote on the oil spill legislation that stalled in the Senate before the August recess (S. 3663) is also unlikely to occur before the November elections, but senators continue to introduce new proposals to address the spill. On 9/16, Senate Finance Committee chair Baucus (D-MT) introduced a package of tax-cut extensions to renew dozens of provisions that expired at the end of last year (S. 3793); the legislation would increase the 8-cent per barrel fee that oil companies pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to 78 cents per barrel. The bill also would increase the amount the fund could spend on any spill from $1 billion to $5 billion. In late May, the House passed a measure (H.R. 4213) that would have raised the per barrel fee to 34 cents, but the provision was dropped before that bill became law.
On 9/21, Sen. Bingaman (D-NM) and Sen. Brownback (R-KS) introduced the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act (S. 3813), which would require that 15 percent of the nation's electricity come from a combination of renewable electricity and energy efficiency by 2021. The renewable energy standard in S. 3813 is the same as that passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year as part of a broader bill (S. 1462) except for a few technical changes. The bill has garnered 23 co-sponsors, including Republicans Sen. Collins (ME) and Sen. Ensign (NV). Utilities could meet the renewable electricity portion of the standard by producing or purchasing renewable electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources. Many states have stricter standards in place already, and the bill would not preempt state programs. Sen. Bingaman has indicated he would like the legislation to be brought to the floor as a stand-alone measure, but other senators are viewing the bill as a potential vehicle for other energy measures, including proposals to block the EPA from regulating global warming pollution.