Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats at Work for the American People on Energy Independence, Environmental Protection, and Climate Change

During the 110th Congress, Committees chaired by Democrats have been hard at work considering legislation, conducting oversight, informing the American people, and seeking solutions to America’s most difficult problems.  This Special Report details the efforts of Democratic-controlled Senate Committees to move America in a new direction on energy independence, environmental protection, and climate change.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Analysis of draft global warming legislation. On January 24, 2007, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) analysis of Chairman Bingaman’s cap-and-trade proposal to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  EIA found that mandatory steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved at very low cost to American households and without harming the U.S. economy.  Witnesses and Senators discussed the benefits and shortcomings of a cap-and-trade system, various offsets, a “safety valve,” emission reduction rates, and setting the pricing of carbon, among other issues.  Witnesses also agreed that more federal research and development funding is needed to deploy the energy technologies that will be needed to cut emissions.

Senators’ views on climate change.  On January 30, 2007, the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held an open forum for Senators to share their views on climate change and legislative proposals to address the problem.  Over 30 Senators participated by providing oral and written statements to the committee.  The forum was an important first step in forming bipartisan approaches to addressing climate change.

Climate change research and scientific integrity. On February 7, 2007, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing to examine allegations of political suppression of climate science by the Bush Administration.  A government scientist and former Bush Administration officials described how the Administration interfered with climate scientists’ contact with the media and edited scientific reports to downplay the threats posed by climate change.  A current Administration official pledged to work to make sure government scientists would not face such interference in the future.

Global warming and wildlife. On February 7, 2007, the EPW Subcommittee on Private Sector Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection held a hearing examining the the interrelationship between climate and wildlife, climate-based lifecycles, and ecosystems.  Scientists and outdoor enthusiasts described the effects of climate change they currently see, including changes to fragile ecosystems that threaten wildlife, an increased threat of invasive species, climatic and ecological effects of melting sea ice, and effects that ecosystem changes could have on humans.

Global economic effects of the prevention and mitigation of climate change.  On February 13, 2007, the Energy Committee heard testimony regarding the “Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change.”  The Stern Review concludes that tackling climate change is a strategy that promotes economic growth, and that the earlier effective action is taken, the less costly it will be.  Sir Nicholas Stern, the chief economist for the British government, and other economists testified that the economic risks of climate change require immediate action.

Business support for action on global warming. On February 13, 2007, the EPW Committee heard testimony from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of businesses that advocates for mandatory caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  Business executives and experts described actions businesses have already taken to reduce their carbon footprints, outlined the economic benefits of acting now and the risks of waiting to take action, and urged Congress to enact a market-based national, mandatory program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Senate hosts global leaders to discuss climate change.  On February 14 and 15, 2007, the Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) and Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (COM+) organized a forum held in the Senate office buildings to discuss global warming issues.  The forum was part of the G8+5 Climate Change Legislators Dialogue in which more than 80 legislators and government officials from the 20 largest energy-consuming countries participated, including Senators of both parties.  The forum produced a statement urging global negotiators to agree at the G8 Summit in June on a framework for a post-2012 international approach to climate change.

Small business solutions. On March 8, 2007, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee held a hearing regarding small business solutions for combating climate change.  Witnesses reported that a cap-and-trade program for carbon could allow small businesses to reduce energy costs through efficiency improvements and to take advantage of new business opportunities created by the program.  They expressed support for federal programs that educate small businesses about energy-saving technology and help them to invest in it.  They also suggested expanding “on-bill financing” for efficiency improvements, through which utilities provide loans for efficiency projects and consumers repay the loans by giving their savings on energy costs to the utility until the loans are repaid.

Former Vice President Gore testifies on climate change.  On March 21, 2007, the EPW Committee held a hearing to hear former Vice President Al Gore’s perspective on global warming.   Vice President Gore emphasized that there is no significant debate within the scientific community that human-contributed greenhouse gas emissions are causing global climate change.  He provided examples of how combatting global warming and creating economic opportunity are not mutually exclusive goals and stated that technology exists today to improve energy efficiency and put the world on the path toward cutting global emissions.

Global carbon trading. On March 26, 2007, the Energy Committee hosted a roundtable discussion with European officials to discuss the progress of the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme and to receive information on lessons learned for policymakers who want to better understand how a market-based trading program could operate efficiently and effectively in the United States.

Environmental Protection and Infrastructure

Recent EPA rollbacks. On February 6, 2007, the EPW Committee held a hearing to conduct oversight on recent actions by and documents from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The EPA rollbacks benefit polluters’ bottom line and hurt communities by allowing more pollution and reducing the information about pollution available to the public.  The Committee pledged to conduct aggressive oversight into EPA regulations and actions throughout the 110th Congress.

Hurricane recovery. On February 26, 2007, the EPW Committee held a field hearing in New Orleans to examine the current conditions and solutions for moving forward after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  The hearing focused on debris waste management, coastal wetlands restoration, and hurricane protection.  The Committee heard firsthand from local and state officials, community leaders, and the Bush Administration about the current status of recovery efforts, the difficulties faced by the government and residents of affected areas, and efforts to protect New Orleans from future tragedies like those experienced during and after the 2005 hurricane season.

Chemical security. On March 19, 2007, the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security and Water Quality held a field hearing in Newark, New Jersey to examine the importance of state and local authorities in ensuring chemical plant security.  Local and state officials detailed efforts undertaken in New Jersey to strengthen security at chemical facilities.  Unfortunately, new chemical security regulations proposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would pre-empt New Jersey’s stronger state laws, which could endanger Americans who live near chemical facilities.  In addition, DHS, the EPA, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are not using authority currently available to them to improve chemical safety.

Water resource needs and the Army Corps.  On March 15, 2007, the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing with representatives of the Army Corps, local water resource agencies, and water resource experts to examine water resource needs and the Army Corps’ proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2008.  In addition to the insufficiency of the Corps budget, Senators discussed the need to reform the Corps and to authorize Corps projects.  The Committee held a hearing to mark up authorizing legislation, the Water Resources and Development Act, on March 29, 2007.

Public Lands

Wildfire suppression costs.  On January 30, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing to examine federal land agencies’ efforts to suppress wildfires and the cost of those efforts.  Witnesses discussed hazardous fuels reduction, steps the Administration is taking to reduce the federal costs of wildfire suppression, and recommendations from recent reports on reducing overall costs and improving coordination and cost-sharing between agencies, states, and localities.

Secure rural schools.  On March 1, 2007, the Energy Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests held a hearing on the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.  Senators from both parties, the Bush Administration, and local officials agreed to work together to reauthorize this important program, which provides rural counties with funding for schools, law enforcement, roads and other essential county services.  Senators rejected selling federal lands to finance the program.  This legislation was included in the Supplemental Appropriations bill, H.R.1591, as S.Amdt.709.

Energy Policy

Geopolitics of oil. On January 10, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing on global oil supplies and their impact on U.S. economic and national security.  An international economist, national security experts, an investor, and a retired general from the U.S. Air Force told the Committee that America’s dependence on oil creates economic, political, environmental, and national security vulnerabilities and that aggressive action, both domestically and internationally, is needed to address the security problems created by our addiction to oil.

Energy outlook. On March 1, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing with the EIA to receive testimony regarding its annual energy outlook with projections and analysis of domestic energy consumption, supply, prices, and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions through 2030.

Future of coal. On March 22, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing to receive testimony on the report, “The Future of Coal in a Carbon-Constrained World,” which was recently published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The study team examined the factors that will affect the use of coal in a world where significant constraints are placed CO2 and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) was identified and discussed as one possible solution for reducing the impact of CO2 and GHG that would be produced from increased coal combustion for electricity.  The report’s authors recommend the federal government create incentives for several large-scale commercial developments of “first of a kind” generation plants with CCS, without favoring one particular technology.  The authors further recommend sending a signal to the marketplace that plants built in the near future will not be “grandfathered in” to any CO2 regulation regime that may come.

Energy efficiency

Building and utility efficiency. On February 12, 2007, the Energy Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing to receive recommendations on policies and programs to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and to expand the role of electric and gas utilities in energy efficiency programs.  Witnesses highlighted the success of federal building efficiency programs but noted that President Bush’s proposed budgets have consistently cut funding for these programs.  They also emphasized the substantial energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions that are possible through increased building efficiency.  Buildings consume 71 percent of electricity in the United States; U.S. buildings account for 9.8 percent of carbon dioxide emitted in the world.

Efficiency in federal buildings. On March 28, 2007, the EPW Committee held a hearing to examine legislative options for the federal government to reduce federal and local government building operational costs through improvements in energy efficiency.  Senators Boxer and Inhofe, along with a bipartisan group of seven other Senators, have introduced S.992, the Public Buildings Cost Reduction Act, to achieve this objective.  The National Academy of Sciences has found that every $1 invested in energy efficiency by the federal government creates $17 in public benefits.  Witnesses, including efficiency experts, government contractors, and Bush Administration officials expressed support for S.992 and testified that passage of the legislation would save taxpayers money and help make the federal government a leader in reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil and Gas Drilling

Oil and gas royalty management. On January 18, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing regarding federal management of oil and gas royalty payment collections.  The Inspector General of the Interior Department found that senior Interior Department management took a “shockingly cavalier” approach to the issue of missing price thresholds for royalty relief in leases from 1998 and 1999, which have already cost the government $1 billion and could cost up to $10 billion in lost revenue.  At another hearing on the issue, held by the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on February 13, the Administration reported that companies responsible for 29 percent of the affected production were not renegotiating their leases.  Companies that have renegotiated their leases to include price thresholds have not agreed to pay back royalties owed between the commencement of their leases and October 2006.

Outer Continental Shelf drilling. On January 25, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing to examine lease and royalty management for oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf (OCS).  The Bush Administration described the resources currently developed on the OCS, a study of resources in the OCS completed last year, the five-year plan for OCS oil and gas lease sales, and rulemaking to regulate alternative energy sources on the OCS.  The Committee also invited representatives of state governments, industry, and environmental groups to describe the benefits, difficulties, and risks of current and expanded resource development on the OCS.

Fiscal Year 2008 Budget

Department of Energy. On February 7, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing with Secretary Sam Bodman regarding the Department of Energy’s (DOE) budget for Fiscal Year 2008.  Senators from both parties questioned Secretary Bodman about the slow implementation of the loan guarantee program established in the Energy Policy Act, through which the DOE has not yet issued any loan guarantees for innovative technologies.

Department of the Interior. On February 15, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne regarding the Department of the Interior’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2008.  Senators applauded increased funding for operation of the National Parks and the Centennial Initiative.  Senators questioned Secretary Kempthorne about budget cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, and other conservation and land management programs, as well as ill-conceived Administration proposals to sell federal lands to reduce the deficit.

Forest Service. On February 28, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service regarding the Forest Service’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2008.  Senators questioned the cuts to Forest Service activities and the rising costs associated with wildfire suppression.  They also criticized the President’s proposal to sell federal lands to fund the Secure Rural Schools program.

Environmental Protection Agency. On March 7, 2007, the EPW Committee held a hearing with EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson regarding the EPA’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2008.  Senators from both parties objected to the proposed 37 percent cut to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which funds water treatment projects that stop raw sewage and other pollution from washing into our nation’s waterways, and to proposed cuts to funding for state and local air quality management programs.  The President’s budget would cut funding for EPA programs by over $300 million.

Energy Technology

The future of U.S. energy. On February 27, 2007, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing regarding America’s energy future.  Witnesses discussed technologies to improve efficiency, develop and distribute alternative fuels, reduce our carbon emissions, and capture and sequester carbon in order to move toward energy independence and reduce global climate change.

Advanced energy technologies. On March 7, 2007, the Senate Energy Committee held a hearing to investigate market constraints on large investments in advanced energy technologies and to examine ways to stimulate additional private-sector investment in the deployment of these technologies.  Witnesses described the challenges they face in attracting necessary investment and moving innovative technologies to market, and they offered policy solutions to aid the research, development, and deployment of new energy technologies.

Energy technology innovation. On March 20, 2007, the Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine innovation in energy technology.  Witnesses emphasized the importance of not picking individual technologies but encouraging the research, development, and deployment of new energy technologies.  They noted that energy efficiency should come first in meeting energy needs, distributed generation and interconnectivity can be effective but need to be incentivized, and a cap-and-trade program on carbon and performance-based incentives will create a market for and incentivize all clean technologies. 

Transportation

Transportation fuel efficiency. On January 30, 2007, the Energy Committee held a hearing to examine the state of fuel efficiency technology in the transportation sector and the prospects for reducing our reliance on oil.  Witnesses discussed federal procurement, alternative fuel infrastructure, improving fuel economy standards, tax credits for consumers and commercial interests to purchase fuel-efficient cars, and federal support for advanced technology research and development as ways the federal government can improve transportation fuel efficiency.

Biofuels conference. On February 1, 2007, the Energy Committee held a conference to examine the current state and future of transportation biofuels.  The committee brought in policy experts, scientists, trade groups, representatives of fuel-intensive industries, companies that are developing new technology, and companies producing both traditional fuels and biofuels to discuss the development and use of biofuels and the infrastructure needed to support them.

Fuel economy standards. On March 6, 2007, the Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) program.  The fuel economy of the U.S. vehicle fleet is virtually unchanged over the last 20 years.  Bush Administration officials described their goal to increase fuel efficiency but did not provide a blueprint for achieving that goal.  Witnesses highlighted the successes of the CAFE program and the need to reduce transportation fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  Senators and witnesses from industry and the scientific community discussed potential improvements to the CAFE program and what technology improvements could be made to vehicles now to improve fuel economy.

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