Agriculture & Energy Update

June 8, 2010
Volume III, Number 3
A Federal Information Service of the NCSL Standing Committee on Agriculture & Energy

Farm Bill Feedback: Comment Period Ends June 14th

As work on the 2012 Farm Bill intensifies, the House Agriculture Committee has created a form on its website asking for constituent feedback. Respondents are asked to share their thoughts about future farm policy.

House Committee on Agriculture online Feedback Form:

As the House considers this feedback, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, chaired by Senator Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), will hold its first committee hearing on the legislation June 30. Senator Lincoln said that “This first hearing will focus on maintaining a sound U.S. farm policy to protect our most vital resource - our food supply.”

Resolution to Undo U.S. EPA's Authority to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

After reaching a unanimous consent agreement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nevada), Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) has been able to force a vote on a resolution to undo the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The vote, tentatively scheduled for June 10, will be after 10 hours of debate during which filibusters and amendments will not be allowed.

The resolution, whose lead sponsor is Senator Murkowski, vetoes the EPA’s “endangerment finding” of greenhouse gases. Under this rule, the agency declared greenhouse gases a public danger and is therefore required to regulate the gases under the Clean Air Act. The EPA issued the rule after a Supreme Court Case in April 2007, Massachusetts v. EPA, found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered by the agency, which are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

In order to pass the Senate, Murkowski’s resolution would need 51 votes in the chamber. So far, the measure already has 41 cosponsors, three of which are Democrats. However, even if the resolution passes the Senate, it would still face a great deal of opposition in the House and would most likely be vetoed by President Obama. But the Senator from Alaska remains persistent, she said that "My job is just to work hard, make sure people understand the implications of this measure and what it will mean for our nation's economy, and we'll go forward with the vote after the [Memorial Day] recess."  

President Obama Halts Operations to Deep-Water Rigs in Gulf

On May 27, after stating that he was “angry and frustrated” over the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama issued a 6 month suspension of drilling 33 exploratory wells in the region. The suspension will apply to all wells being drilled at depths greater than 500 feet as a newly formed White House Commission examines ways to improve the safety and reliability of deepwater drilling operations. Some of the rigs that have already begun drilling will be required to stop and other rigs which were making preparations will have to cease operations until the commission finishes its report.

While on his second trip to the region May 27, the President commented that the accident will not change his stance on expanding offshore drilling as he said that the overall framework of domestic oil production needs to be part “of our overall energy mix." He said that, “Where I was wrong was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios." 

In addition to putting a stop to drilling operations in the Gulf, President Obama announced an additional six-month moratorium on new permits for deepwater wells, a stoppage on planned oil exploration off the Alaskan coast, the cancellation of a scheduled lease in the western Gulf and the cancellation of a proposed lease sale off Virginia's coast. 

Cleanfields Investment Act                         

On May 20, 2010, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee reported out the Cleanfields Investment Act to the full Senate. The Act would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to provide grants to nonprofit organizations, localities, and other entities for establishing renewable energy facilities, which includes renewable manufacturing facilities, on Brownfield sites. The legislation would annually authorize $50 million over five years for the grants. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), S. 3374 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates and would impose no costs on state, local, or tribal governments. 

Air and Health Quality Empowerment Zone Designation Act    

Also on May 20, the Senate Environment and Public works committee passed the Air and Health Quality Empowerment Zone Designation Act. This legislation would authorize the EPA to create empowerment zones throughout the country. Certain entities in these zones would be eligible for subsidies to retrofit and modernize their vehicles or engines to reduce air pollution. The CBO estimates that the legislation would authorize $20 million from 2011-2015 and would not impose any financial burden on localities.

House Passes Home Star Legislation

 On May 6, the House passed the "Home Star" bill, which would provide rebates and incentives to homeowners who install energy saving devices and retrofit their homes to reduce their energy consumption. According to the Alliance to Save Energy, the bill, H.R. 5019, is estimated to create 168,000 jobs domestically in the fields of construction, manufacturing, and retail.

The measure creates two options from which consumers may choose. The Silver Star Program would provide up to $3,000 in rebates for energy specific modifications. This would include installing insulation, duct sealing, replacing water heaters and replacing windows and doors. The Gold Star Program provides homeowners up to $8,000 in rebates to be used for comprehensive energy audits and updating the home to substantially lower energy use.

The bill would authorize $6 billion in FYs 2010-2011, about $1 billion of which would go to state and local governments to support the proposed rebate program. It would also authorize $200 million in FY 2010 and $400 million in FY 2011 to help states develop and implement plans to replace certain types of housing with newer, more energy-efficient models.

Having passed the House by a 246-161, mostly on party lines, the legislation now awaits action by the Finance Committee in the Senate.