Earth Day brings flurry of mostly messaging bills on Capitol Hill

By Nick Juliano | 04/23/2015 07:11 AM EDT

Nowhere in the rules of the House or Senate is a requirement that any legislation related to the environment wait until Earth Day to be introduced, but you wouldn’t know that from the torrent of bills floated yesterday proposing everything from a tax on carbon emissions to a program to make mail trucks more efficient.

Nowhere in the rules of the House or Senate is a requirement that any legislation related to the environment wait until Earth Day to be introduced, but you wouldn’t know that from the torrent of bills floated yesterday proposing everything from a tax on carbon emissions to a program to make mail trucks more efficient.

It was mostly Democrats who used yesterday to highlight their various legislative proposals demonstrating a commitment to saving the planet. A handful of Republicans took the opportunity to float some ideas of their own, few of which were in line with those of the most boisterous Earth Day celebrators.

More than a dozen bills were introduced yesterday related to climate change, environmental regulations or energy production, according to a search of congressional statements in the online database Legistorm. Since Monday, House and Senate lawmakers put out more than 50 statements mentioning Earth Day; by comparison, nearly twice as many statements mentioned "tax day" over the same period leading up to April 15 last week.


Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) released statements commemorating Earth Day yesterday. Boehner did post a video on Twitter commemorating National Jellybean Day, which apparently also was yesterday. Boehner said he preferred the green jellybeans.

The flurry of legislative activity yesterday included numerous longshot proposals from Democrats that stand little chance of success in a Republican Congress, along with a few ideas that could garner more bipartisan support as lawmakers continue to assemble energy legislation this year.

The day started with a rally outside the Capitol with Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who were reintroducing their bill (H.R. 1902) to ban hydraulic fracturing on public lands — an approach that is at odds even with the Obama administration and unlikely to gain traction in the near future. Schakowsky said she appreciated the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to strengthen its regulation of fracking in a recently proposed rule, "but the rule allows fracking to continue, and that’s what our bill would stop."

Yesterday evening, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a leading efficiency advocate, introduced the "Smart Manufacturing Leadership Act." The bill would direct the Department of Energy to identify applications for new technologies that can make manufacturing more efficient and provide assistance to small and midsized manufactures to implement the technology, although Shaheen did not mention Earth Day in introducing the bill.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced two bills, one aimed at promoting geothermal energy and another to promote marine hydrokinetic energy.

"Finding new ways to produce clean energy, create good-paying U.S. jobs and reduce carbon emissions is critical to protecting the environment and American consumers," Wyden said in a statement. "This 45th anniversary of Earth Day puts a spotlight on the importance of protecting our environment. I’m going to keep working on ways to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change not just on Earth Day, but every day of the year."

A group of 10 New England and Mid-Atlantic Democrats, led by New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, introduced a bill to block offshore drilling anywhere along the Atlantic Coast. The bill puts the group at odds with President Obama, who proposed opening part of the East Coast to exploration in his latest proposed five-year drilling plan.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a nonbinding resolution honoring author and activist Rachel Carson, whose seminal book "Silent Spring" is credited with helping to bring about the environmental movement.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) reintroduced their bill to eliminate a variety of tax breaks for traditional energy sources, increase royalties for drilling on public lands and direct federal research dollars toward clean energy.

Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) said he would be introducing a bill to establish a $30-per-ton carbon tax and use the proceeds to lower the corporate tax-rate to 28 percent and provide rebates to low-income families to offset higher energy bills. The bill also would direct the Department of Labor to assist those in the coal industry who lose their jobs as a result of the carbon tax.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced two bills timed to yesterday’s festivities. The "Climate Change Education Act" would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a program to promote education related to the causes and effects of climate change. The "Land Based Marine Debris Reduction Act" would direct U.S. EPA to identify ways to keep trash from reaching lakes, rivers and oceans.

Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) introduced the "Veterans Conservation Corps Act," a version of which had been offered in the last session of Congress, as well. The bill would train veterans for careers in conservation-related fields such as water management, construction or becoming park rangers, according to a press release. Separately, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) introduced the "21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act," a more broadly targeted effort to encourage jobs in conservation fields.

Reps. Mark Takai (D-Hawaii), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) reintroduced the "Federal Leadership in Energy Efficient Transportation Act" (FLEET). The bill would direct the U.S. Postal Service to reduce its petroleum consumption 2 percent per year over the next decade, strengthen efficiency standards for new postal trucks and direct the Postal Service to find ways to make their routes more efficient.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced the "Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants and Rhinoceros Act" (TUSKER), which would impose sanctions on countries that facilitate poaching.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) announced he would introduce the "Great Lakes Nutrient Removal Assistance Act." The bill would establish a $500 million program within EPA to help cities and towns upgrade wastewater treatment systems to remove nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which can cause algal blooms like the one that made Toledo’s water supply undrinkable for several days last year.

While much of the day’s messaging focused on traditional environmentalist concerns such as climate change or clean water, District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) used the occasion to reintroduce her "Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act," the latest version of a bill she has introduced for more than 20 years.

"Earth Day has come into its own with the urgency of climate change, which could destroy the earth but was unknown when Earth Day was established in 1970," Norton said in a statement. "At the same time, there is no greater threat to the future of our planet than nuclear war. As the United States seeks to eliminate the nuclear threat from Iran, our country, with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, should lead by example by reducing our already unnecessarily high number of warheads, and move toward realizing a world without nuclear weapons."

A handful of Republicans got into the act yesterday, too, although not all of them explicitly tied their efforts to Earth Day. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) introduced a nonbinding resolution encouraging an "all of the above" energy policy that would preserve a role for abundant fossil fuels and nuclear power alongside renewables and energy efficiency.

Reps. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) and Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) introduced a new bill taking aim at one of their longstanding targets: the wind production tax credit. Their bill would reduce the credit’s value by eliminating inflation adjustments that have been made since its initial enactment in 1992, tighten eligibility requirements and strike the relevant section of the tax code to prevent further extensions of the credit, which was briefly renewed and then expired at the end of last year.

Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — both of whom are among the most endangered GOP incumbents ahead of the 2016 election — more forcefully embraced the spirit of Earth Day. They introduced the "Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act," which would reauthorize a popular program to address threats to the lakes’ ecosystems. A bipartisan companion was introduced in the House earlier this year.

"Last year I celebrated the contamination cleanup of Waukegan Harbor and the removal of more than 150,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, which was made possible because of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative," Kirk said in a statement. "As the source of clean drinking water for more than 30 million Americans, it is crucial that we keep the Lakes our nation’s most precious natural resource, free from toxins, sewage and the continued threat of invasive species in order to keep the Lakes the crown jewel of the Midwest."

Some took an opportunity yesterday not to introduce new bills but to tout previous successes such as Congress passing earlier this week a modest energy efficiency bill aimed at preserving utility demand-response programs and encouraging efficiency in buildings (E&E Daily, April 22).

"Earth Day serves as a reminder that each and every day we can do our part to protect our land and water and conserve our resources," said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who co-sponsored the "Better Buildings Act," which was included in the just-passed bill. "By supporting earth-friendly policies and industries, we can not only help combat climate change, but create good-paying jobs and strengthen our local communities."