Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday moved to speed debate on the bill funding environmental agencies for 2010 even as contentious amendments loom on regulation of greenhouse gases.
Reid's cloture motion comes as Republicans are attempting to use the annual Interior Department, U.S. EPA and Forest Service spending bill as a vehicle for broader policy debates including climate change, offshore drilling and the Obama administration's use of policy "czars."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, criticized the decision to invoke cloture on the bill, saying it would prevent senators from debating important issues. "I sure don't think we're ready," she said. "I understand there's been well in excess of 70 some odd amendments out there -- amendments of some real substance. So I think it's a little premature."
Murkowski is one of several senators planning to use the measure to limit the Obama administration's authority to regulate greenhouse gases. She may introduce an amendment that would prohibit EPA from regulating heat-trapping emissions from stationary sources like power plants and industrial facilities for one year.
White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson criticized Murkowski's approach of using the EPA spending bill as a vehicle for limiting the agency's regulatory power (E&ENews PM, Sept. 22).
Other Republicans, however, said Reid's move still would allow ample time to bring their amendments up for discussion.
"It's a fairly routine procedure, he just wants to make sure we get through with our work," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) ranking member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. "I think things are moving very well, a number of senators are offering amendments, they're having a chance to get votes on their amendments."
Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said last night that she did not yet have a sense of which EPA amendments will be brought to the floor. "We blocked a couple," she said.
Meanwhile, new greenhouse gas amendments keep coming. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) filed two amendments that would restrict U.S. EPA's ability to impose new carbon dioxide regulations.
One amendment would prohibit EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions in ways "that will result in significant job loss in manufacturing- or coal-dependent regions of the United States such as the Midwest, Great Plains or South."
Another amendment from the Missouri senator would prohibit EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions in ways that will cause an increase in retail prices of fertilizer or fuels used for agricultural production.
"These amendments will shutout new job-killing energy taxes proposed by cap-and-trade advocates, who are trying to push their agenda through the backdoor with EPA regulations," Bond said.
Dueling ethanol amendments
The bill could become ensnared in the battle over whether EPA should allow ethanol blends in gasoline above the current 10 percent limit for fuels used in conventional engines and vehicles.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has filed an amendment that would require EPA to grant the ethanol industry a Clean Air Act waiver allowing 15 percent blends by Dec. 1.
The amendment says that if the agency does not allow the blends, it cannot use the bill's funds to enforce the Clean Air Act section that bars introduction of fuels or increased concentration of fuel additives absent an agency waiver.
Increasing the ethanol blends has support from the biofuels and farm sectors, but it would face major hurdles as well. A coalition that spans refiners, livestock groups, environmentalists and other interests opposes the mid-level blends.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a strong oil industry ally, has prepared an amendment that would bar use of funds for approving introduction of mid-level blends into the fuel system until the waiver decision process has been completed.
One Senate Democratic aide said neither amendment appeared likely to have enough support for passage and that therefore neither is likely to be offered on the floor.
Czars, offshore drilling
Yesterday, Feinstein said she will accept an amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), once the Senate clerk addresses a technical matter, on President Obama's use of various policy "czars," or presidential advisers whose appointments were not subject to Senate confirmation.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) had crafted a more contentious amendment that would bar use of funds in the spending bill for implementing policies "at the direction" of White House climate and energy adviser Carol Browner. The debate comes as conservative activists and Republicans launched a political attack on Obama's use of czars.
Collins' measure would prevent federal funds from paying the expenses of the czars until two conditions are met. The president would have to certify to Congress that all the czars will respond to reasonable requests from congressional committees seeking information and each official would have to issue a public written report twice a year describing their office and any rule, regulation or policy they participated in developing or directed.
Meanwhile, Vitter tried to call up an amendment on the floor that would prohibit money in the spending bill from being used to delay implementation of a 2010-2015 outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing program proposed in the waning days of the Bush administration. The plan would greatly expand outer continental shelf development, including opening areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
After Feinstein objected on behalf of Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) to the amendment, Vitter instead offered a motion to recommit the bill to committee with instructions to send it back to the full Senate with his amendment attached. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week said it remains unclear whether his department will put the new plan in place before the current plan runs out in 2012.
"I don't think there's any reasonable argument that something so pertinent and germane shouldn't be open to debate," Vitter said. "[Salazar] is not going to take action in the foreseeable future to actually move forward with that, going after domestic production and domestic resources. ... We have enormous potential right here at home. The question which this amendment poses is, are we going to tap that potential?"
Seventeen environmental groups sent a letter yesterday opposing Vitter's amendment, saying it would prematurely put the drilling plan in place.
The Senate yesterday voted, 61-36, to table a motion from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to recommit with instructions attached for his amendment dealing with water allocations in California's Central Valley. His amendment would have prevented any funds in the spending bill from being used to restrict, reduce or reallocate water as called for in two federal biological opinions.
DeMint said the issue "shines a spotlight on the utter stupidity" of how the Senate sometimes acts, saying that because of an "arbitrary lawsuit" water would be cut off to California farmers.
But Feinstein said DeMint should leave her state alone. "In essence, South Carolina is telling California how to handle its water issues," she said, adding the amendment would handcuff the Interior secretary and prohibit transfers between state and federal water projects that are meant to facilitate additional water to the state's farm belt.
The Senate also rejected, 27-70, an amendment from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to strike $200,000 for renovations of the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa.
The Senate accepted by unanimous consent an amendment from Reid to provide for an evaluation of the aquifers in the area of the Jungo Disposal Site in Humboldt County, Nev. There has been controversy over a proposal to ship waste from California's Bay Area to the Nevada area.
With one week left to go in the fiscal year, Congress is making plans to keep the government running while it works on spending measures.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) yesterday said the House will approve a continuing resolution this week that will give Congress more time to finish the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills, adding that he was optimistic it would be the only such extension that lawmakers will need.
"My objective is to complete the appropriations process by the end of October. We will be a month late," Hoyer said.
The CR will be approved today or tomorrow, he said. It is not clear when the Senate will take up the measure, but it must clear both chambers by the end of the month.
"I am hopeful that we will do three, four, or as many as four prior to September 30," Hoyer said. "We will do a CR for the balance."
Congress has yet to send any of the 12 appropriations bills to the president's desk. The House has approved all 12 bills and the Senate has cleared five, but none have gone to conference. And though Democratic leaders say they hope to send at least some of the bills to the White House over the next few weeks, there has been no word on when formal conference negotiations may occur.
The extended consideration of the spending bills has contributed to making the schedule for the remainder of the session "somewhat flexible," according to Hoyer. As such, Hoyer declined to put a target on when the House might adjourn for the year, saying it was dependent on the spending process and the legislation that will be sent back from the Senate.
"The rest of the schedule is somewhat subject, over the balance of the year, somewhat subject to both health care and the flow of business from the Senate to the House," he said.