Of Peace and Politics

What's Happening on Energy and Climate?

Posted on 09/20/2013 @ 05:23 PM

Tags: energy, environment

Emily Wirzba

A lot happened on climate change in the week of September 16th. The Senate debated an energy efficiency bill, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released emission standards regulating new power plants, and Congress held hearings on the Keystone XL Pipeline and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. As people across the nation prepare to protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline on September 21st, here is a brief update on what is happening in Washington on climate.

Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill

Many were hopeful that S. 1392, the bipartisan energy-efficiency bill introduced by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Republican Rob Portman (OH), would be voted on this week. Unfortunately, there is a strong chance that the Senate will not vote on the bill until after they pass legislation to keep the federal government running past September 30th.

The vote on S. 1392 was first delayed when Senator David Vitter (LA) proposed a non-germane amendment dealing with the Affordable Care Act (2010). While many proponents of the bill scrambled to compromise, there are currently too many amendments unrelated to energy efficiency to move the bill forward. The fate of the bill is now unclear.

EPA Emission Standards

On September 20, the EPA released the first uniform national limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. These standards will regulate future coal and natural gas power plants, and many see this as a very significant step to reducing national carbon emissions, since about one third of all greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. comes from power plants.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon pollution is covered under the Clean Air Act (2007), giving the EPA the authority to regulate carbon emissions. The regulations will encourage the improvement of carbon capture and sequestration technology and improve public health. To find out more details of the plan, read a blog post by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and check out the EPA’s fact sheet on the standards.

Keystone XL Pipeline

On September 19th, a House Energy and Commerce sub-committee held a hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline, marking the fifth anniversary of TransCanada’s original application to build the project. President Obama is expected to make a decision on the pipeline later this year, but legislators in the House and the Senate hope that he will approve the plan earlier.

Senator John Hoeven (ND) proposed an amendment to the Shaheen-Portman energy-efficiency bill stating that the Senate believes the pipeline is in the national interest of the United States. However, with the delay of S. 1392, the Senate may not ever vote on this amendment.

Some House Republicans are also considering linking approval of the pipeline to a bill raising the nation’s debt ceiling. In short, legislators are seeking every way possible to move the Keystone XL pipeline forward.

Obama’s Climate Action Plan

On September 18th, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing on Obama’s Climate Action Plan. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Department of Energy Director Ernest Moniz were the two witnesses, and they spent much of the hearing defending Obama’s plan against charges that it will be harmful economically.

Obama’s plan has three components: cutting carbon pollution in America, preparing the US for impacts of climate change and leading international efforts to address global climate change.

Looking Forward

In spite of the lack of action taken on the Shaheen-Portman bill, and upset at the attempts by Congress to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, mid-September marks a vital step in reducing our nation’s carbon emissions. Environmentalists should build on the excitement and importance of the EPA’s new emission standards and continue to advocate for the passage of the S. 1392 energy-efficiency bill and the denial of the Keystone XL project.

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