Tuesday, February 02, 2016

In the Biggest Energy Bill the Senate Has Debated in 8 Years, They Forgot Coal

Coal miner uderground (Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman) Click to Enlarge.
The effort to turn this bill into law has meant not just avoiding controversial topics but also concentrating on common ground like infrastructure improvement, cyber security, and energy efficiency.  The bill presses for advanced grid technology and measures to allow more clean energy into the grid.  It reauthorizes weatherization programs to improve residential energy efficiency and codifies lower energy use in federal buildings.

Still, it’s inevitable that what Murkowski described as “very inclusive by design” bill contains provisions that affect key energy industries, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions the country will generate in the coming years.  After all, the energy industry is the third-largest industry in the United States.  Moreover, electricity production generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — approximately 67 percent of electricity comes from burning coal and natural gas.

So stakes are high for many large companies whenever an energy bill reaches the Senate floor and this time is no different.  The energy bill thus has various provisions designed to help fossil fuel industries as well as even more amendments — almost 200 have been filed.  One of these amendments, for instance, would allow the sale of oil reserves when prices go up.  There are also the sections that would require federal agencies to develop expedited review processes for new mining permits, and the one streamlining the process for natural gas export terminals — each steps that would help lock in greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come.
But some experts said the same can’t be said about coal, an industry that is losing influence and that experts say won’t get much from the bill.  This comes as energy generation in the country is increasingly fueled by natural gas, which exacerbates the economical losses the coal industry is already experiencing through recent bankruptcies and decreased production as environmental regulations become more stringent.
As a far as renewables, the bill sidesteps the industry, too, since renewables already received key tax credit extensions in a separate bill last year.  However, amendments supporting net-metering policies that promote renewable energy and the creation of so-called clean energy bonds that would finance renewable energy projects have been introduced.  Whether these and other provisions will receive votes this week remains to be seen.

But while environmentalists following the bill said the act could be better, none of those reached expressed deep reservations about it.  “We’ve always been concerned that this was going to be a Christmas tree for drilling proposals, or to weaken some of the measures the president’s done on climate [change],” said Athan Manuel, director of the lands protection program for the Sierra Club. “It hasn’t played out that way.”

This suggests that the energy bill has so far been able to cater to environmentalists and big oil, an uncommon feat.  Yet environmentalist say they remain vigilant for amendments trying to scale back the environmental initiatives Obama has pushed recently, like the Clean Power Plan that limits the amount of carbon allowed from the electricity sector.  These “poison pills” could mount in the coming days but so far though, “it’s interesting how calm the debate has been,” said Manuel. “It’s really kind of old school Washington when people tried to get stuff done.”

Read more at In the Biggest Energy Bill the Senate Has Debated in 8 Years, They Forgot Coal

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