New Senate Energy Bill is Mostly a Fossil Fuel Giveaway

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — In the midst of all the distraction over Russia and the Healthcare bill, the Senate has introduced a new energy bill. Called the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017. S. 1460, it’s a bipartisan bill that was introduced by Senators Murkowski (R-AK) and Cantwell (D-WA). Could the timing be a matter of trying to slip something through unnoticed? That certainly seems to be popular tactic. But surely our energy future is far too important to be railroaded through while we sleep.

The bill follows the 2015 Energy bill which, despite strong support in the Senate, did not pass the House. It’s a broad bill that covers topics ranging from “efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, conservation, federal land management, National Park System management, sportsmen’s issues, water infrastructure, natural hazards, and Indian energy.”

It’s been over a decade since Congress passed a bill addressing energy and resource policies, and certainly something needs to be done.

But as any so-called bipartisan bill would have to be in this hyper-partisan era, this is a hodgepodge of sustainability measures mixed with outright gifts to fossil fuel interests.

For example, under infrastructure, the bill would take on grid modernization and cybersecurity while at the same time, streamlining pipeline permitting, facilitating LNG exports, and ensuring a qualified and well-trained workforce.

To its credit, the bill does provide quite a bit under efficiency, including energy savings performance contracts to the reauthorization of the weatherization assistance and state energy programs

On the question of supply, it follows the same old, all-of-the-above strategy, which seems to be the only thing that will pass Congress. The bill would focus on the "development of renewable resources, traditional energy, and non-fuel minerals alike, in order to provide for a long-term, American-made energy supply that is increasingly abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure." However, the amount of focus on each is cause for concern.

Until we can reach a consensus on climate action and the need to move away from fossil fuels, the only kind of bill that can pass is one that is distasteful to both sides. Each side will be expected to fight for their priorities. This bill seems to have something for everyone to love and hate.

For example, the sheet metal workers union is for it, because they expect that the energy retrofits will provide them plenty of work.

At the same time, an open letter  led by Food & Water Watch and signed by hundreds of environmental organizations, both national and local, opposes the bill. Specifically, they oppose the aggressive build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure including:

  • Expediting approval of LNG export terminals
  • Expediting the review of new mining permits, and oil and gas permitting and drilling
  • Making the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the lead agency authorizing for natural gas projects making all agencies defer to FERC
  • Expanding research and development for extracting methane hydrates

It’s worth mentioning in this era of reduced caution, a word that has somehow come to mean the opposite of profit, and therefore undesirable, that methane hydrates or methane clathrates, as they are sometimes called, do contain vast amounts of concentrated natural gas, but  they also lie in unstable beds on the ocean floor, where one slip could easily release enough methane to render all other efforts to limit GHG emissions pointless. Why we would want to get into that at a time when we already have more natural gas than we know what to do with, is hard to fathom, or at least it would be in a world ruled by common sense.

What’s perhaps most alarming in this bill is that renewables are barely mentioned. Solar is mentioned only tangentially, and given no support, while wind is literally only mentioned once, being redefined as something other than an “energy resource.” Only hydro and geothermal are supported. Furthermore, the bill attempts to redefine thermal energy, as a form of renewable energy. While this is not clearly defined, it is suspicious. It likely means that projects like combined heat and power (CHP), an energy-efficiency measure, would be credited as, or provided funding, in lieu of other legitimate renewables.

The bill also provides $3.1 billion for carbon capture and storage, a zombie technology that apparently keeps coming back from the dead. Every attempt thus far has proven to be too expensive. In the decades needed to get this working, many better, cheaper, cleaner, safer options will likely be ready to go, but then, they won’t use coal.

The bill, yet again, tries to streamline approval of the use of Federal lands for oil and gas drilling. These lobbyists never give up, but then, why would they? Another interesting feature would allow appliance manufacturers to grant their own products EnergyStar® status. Why bother getting EPA involved, since we’re in the process of getting rid of them anyway?

All told, this bill is a combination of some nice remodeling of our environmental henhouse, while at the same time, not only putting the foxes in charge of it, but encouraging them to bring all their friends over, as well. If this is the best we can do, I would say we’re better off with no bill.