Keeping an Eye on U.S. Environmental Sustainability: An Energy and Climate Policy Update

– Jovita A. Tolbert, National Alliance for Sustainable Communities (NASC) –

Look Out, Austerity Ahead

In light of last year’s debt limit deal (PL 112-25), which included 10-year discretionary spending caps, it’s already apparent appropriators will be advocating spending decreases for the foreseeable future. In fact, Congressional Quarterly experts suggest the appropriations process may become a “street-by-street battle over what constitutes the country’s fundamental needs.”

FY 2013 Energy Appropriations

Congressional tension over energy policy continues to mount, as evidenced by the divergent House and Senate Energy and Water appropriation markups.

The House Republican-led bill favors traditional energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear at the expense of energy efficiency and clean energy programs. As such, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would lose $428 million in funding under the House bill for a total funding level of $1.4 billion. The House bill also presses for continued use of the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, NV.

All in all, the House Energy-Water bill would provide $32.1 billion for agencies and programs under its jurisdiction. This represents a cut of $965 million below the President’s budget request. Notably, the Department of Energy would get $26.1 billion under the bill, a $365 million cut from the current level.

In sharp contrast, the Senate Democratic-led bill aims to preserve investments in clean energy and build on Recovery Act investments. The Senate’s $33.4 billion fiscal 2013 bill provides $27.1 billion for DOE. This includes almost $2 billion for EERE programs. Learn more here.

Transportation Bill May Get Moving

Both Congress and the Administration have made transportation infrastructure investments the cornerstone of their Jobs agendas. However, the bill has been held hostage by House Republicans desire to include a mandate for federal approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. In an effort to pass a bill before the government’s authority to spend highway trust fund money runs out June 30th, Congressional staff is gearing up for a critical May 8th conference committee meeting. The highway trust fund pays for roads as well as transit and is forecast to go broke sometime next year. Learn more here.

Tea Party vs. Keystone

The Keystone XL builder TransCanada is receiving opposition from the Tea Party for its use of eminent domain to acquire rights-of-way for the oil line. Learn more here.

Nuclear Site Approved

Progress Energy’s Levy County site in Florida is expected to get a permit for a new nuclear reactor. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers issued a final environmental impact statement for the site in late April. The statement notes there would be no environmental impact at the site. Learn more here.