A controversial rider that would halt the roll out of new lighting efficiency standards remains plugged into a massive spending deal House and Senate negotiators worked out last night.
Lawmakers in both chambers signed off on the omnibus spending deal that would fund U.S. EPA, the Energy Department, the Interior Department and other agencies for the rest of fiscal 2012. The deal paves the way for votes in both chambers today, a move that would narrowly avoid a government shutdown when current funding expires at midnight.
The 1,200-page conference agreement released just before midnight last night appears nearly identical to language House Republicans released as a stand-alone bill early yesterday morning, including the same steep cuts for EPA and the rider on lighting efficiency standards.
The light bulb language had emerged as a sticking point in negotiations this week, and its inclusion in the final bill is a blow to Democratic efforts to remove it.
"I strongly oppose that language," Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said yesterday. Bingaman is the chief author of the 2007 law that originally enacted the standards requiring light bulbs to be about 30 percent more efficient starting Jan. 1. He told reporters last night -- before a deal was reached -- that he was pushing Senate leaders to remove the controversial provision from the conference agreement.
The language, which was originally tacked onto the Energy Department and Army Corps of Engineers fiscal 2012 spending bill that the House passed this summer, prohibits DOE from enforcing a set of light bulb efficiency standards that are set to take effect on Jan. 1. It also blocks enforcement of standards for flood lights that have been in effect since 2008.
Some conservatives in the House and right-wing pundits and commentators have championed the light bulb standard issue this year, citing it as an example of government overreach and saying it would effectively ban traditional incandescent light bulbs.
Light bulb manufacturers, efficiency advocates and others say that simply is not true.
"In the real world, outside talk radio's echo chamber, lighting manufacturers such as GE, Philips and Sylvania have tooled up to produce new incandescent light bulbs that look and operate exactly the same as old incandescent bulbs and give off just as much warm light," Republicans for Environmental Protection Policy Director Jim DiPeso said in a statement. "The only different is they produce less excess heat and are therefore 30 percent more efficient. What's not to like?"
Blocking the standards effectively serves as a slap in the face to light bulb manufacturers, who have been working since 2007 to produce the new bulbs.
"Eliminating funding for light bulb efficiency standards is especially poor policy as it would leave the policy in place but make it impossible to enforce, undercutting domestic manufacturers who have invested millions of dollars in U.S. plants to make new incandescent bulbs that meet the standards," a coalition of dozens of lighting manufacturers, efficiency groups and environmentalists said in a letter this week to senators (Greenwire, Dec. 15).
And it would disrupt the marketplace, supporters of the standards say, because individual states could still implement the standards. California, in fact, already is enforcing them.
"It would create a patchwork of enforcement that would be nightmarish for the industry," said a lighting industry executive.
Despite the broad support for the standards, chances remain slim that the rider would serve as a deal-breaker for the omnibus agreement at this late stage.
Bingaman yesterday said he staunchly opposed the language, but he stopped short of saying he would vote against the broader bill if it remained.
And Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), the author of the original House amendment that would block implementation of the standards, said he did not think its inclusion would hold up final passage.
"I'm obviously pleased that the light bulb language is in there," Burgess told reporters yesterday. "I don't think it's make or break as far as whether the omnibus gets passed."
Overall, the conference agreement provides $25.75 billion for DOE, a billion dollars more than the version of spending language the House passed this summer and $200 million more than Senate appropriators included in a bill that cleared the Appropriations Committee in September. It dedicates $10.32 billion for the Interior Department, a roughly $310 million cut from current spending but more than $400 million higher than the House's summer spending proposal. And it would fund U.S. EPA at a level of $8.46 billion, a $240 million reduction from the current enacted level and a $333 million drop below President Obama's budget request.
As 11th-hour talks over switching off the light bulb rider ran aground yesterday, lawmakers geared up for a vote in both chambers today on the broader 2012 spending blueprint that was within a hair's breadth of coming to the House floor as a stand-alone bill -- rather than the official conference report filed late yesterday after days of machinations (E&E Daily, Dec. 15).
"There's an agreement amongst the appropriators," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters hours before a final agreement to advance the omnibus was reached. "And it's just time for Democrats to sign the conference report, and we can move that process."
The Ohioan had vowed to clear a stand-alone version of the trillion-dollar omnibus bill today, with Democratic votes, if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his chamber's appropriators did not sign off on the conference agreement. When that pact was released late last night, its terms aligned largely with the bill released by House Republicans in the early hours of Thursday morning and appeared to avert the need for a stopgap continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded past tonight's expiration of federal funds.
Few senior lawmakers had given credence to shutdown warnings even as today's deadline loomed large. A short-term CR to pave the way for passage of the full omnibus would have been "a necessary evil," Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican appropriator for DOE, said yesterday.
Similarly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters yesterday that "if we don't have an agreement ... we're not going to be shutting down government."
Most of the high-profile environmental and energy policy riders that fueled a year of bitter clashes between the two parties, and between green groups and their industry foes, failed to survive in the final omnibus, which the top House Democrat for EPA and Interior Department budgets billed as a fair arrangement.
"There is no good excuse for anybody, particularly Democrats, to vote against the bill," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said yesterday.
Yet even as EPA was spared major omnibus riders affecting its ability to limit greenhouse gases and other industrial pollutants, it was hit with a $240 million reduction from previously enacted levels for the remainder of the fiscal year. Interior would see a $310 million cut and several policy changes, including a block on stormwater runoff rules for logging roads and the takeover of Arctic drilling oversight previously housed at EPA (Greenwire, Dec. 15).
Democrats' success in beating back big-ticket environmental riders did not stop conservationists from blasting the omnibus as an inequitable deal for their priorities. One of their biggest House allies said yesterday that he could not vote for the spending package, citing its cuts to EPA and Interior.
"As long as we're subsidizing oil and coal companies when they don't deserve it and slashing environmental programs, then the balance is all out of whack," Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said yesterday.
Pipeline still in the mix
Driving the uncertainty over timing for a final omnibus vote are several outstanding items left on Congress' year-end to-do list, including the extension of payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance (UI) benefits backed by the White House.
Those issues were linked with two major priorities of the GOP and industries ranging from oil to pulp and paper, as House Republicans passed a payroll tax-UI bill earlier this week that forces a speedy Obama administration ruling on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline and blocks EPA boiler emissions regulations (E&E Daily, Dec. 14).
Both the boiler rule rollback and the fast-tracking of the Canada-to-U.S. pipeline, savaged by greens but backed by many labor unions, are nonstarters with Reid. While the GOP maintains that a locked-in approval of Keystone XL could win a bipartisan majority in the Senate, leaders of both parties were reportedly close to moving a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut that would trigger fresh negotiations on the issue -- and its potential linkage to the pipeline's fate -- early next year.
Even as Republicans prepared to put off a decisive fight over the 1,700-mile oil link until 2012, they remained confident that a quick permit for the pipeline would continue to be a winning issue for their party amid a Democratic schism on the issue and an ongoing employment crisis.
Democrats are "having epigastric distress over Keystone XL," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said yesterday, acknowledging the number of party centrists who back a White House green light for the massive oil transport project.
Fueling GOP hopes for a last-minute compromise on the pipeline, which would nearly double U.S. import capacity for Canadian oil sands crude if approved, was President Obama's choice last week to say he would "reject" a marriage of the XL line and his tax cut -- without using the word "veto" (E&ENews PM, Dec. 7).
White House spokesman Jay Carney similarly eschewed the V-word yesterday but stood behind the administration's decision to set a 2013 deadline for release of a new environmental review covering a rerouting of the project in Nebraska.
"The proper way for this to take place is for the State Department to conduct a thorough review based on decades of tradition here," Carney said, noting that XL sponsor TransCanada Corp. "hasn't identified an alternate route" in the Cornhusker State.
The House GOP proposal passed earlier this week attempted an end-run around that fact by incorporating the terms of a final rerouting deal in Nebraska after the pipeline has already advanced to the early stages of construction.
Reporter Jeremy P. Jacobs contributed.