WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2015 -- The U.S. Congress and the 195 nations meeting in Paris to set global climate policy are headed in opposite directions.

Just as the Paris climate summit, which ends Dec. 11, is moving closer to agreement on ways to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, last week the U.S. House voted 249 to 174 to pass an energy bill that would increase production, use and exports of oil, natural gas and coal. The bill, H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, attracted nine Democratic votes, but fell short of the 290 votes needed to overturn a threatened White House veto.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, highlighted the contrast between House Republican priorities and the Paris climate summit when he welcomed last week’s largely party-line vote for the House energy bill. “As the Obama administration undercuts American energy security in Paris,” he said, “the House today advanced a reform package to strengthen our energy position and ensure our domestic infrastructure keeps stride with our renewed energy capacity.”

Another sign of contrast emerged Tuesday when mayors from four cities along the Mississippi River – representing 68 mayors involved in the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, showed up at the Paris talks to endorse aggressive action to combat climate change.

In contrast to the House energy bill’s support for fossil fuels, Dubuque, Iowa, Mayor Roy Buol said that to protect the world’s food and fresh water supplies from already severe climate change impacts, “We are shifting our economies from being supported by natural resources to supporting the health and well-being of those resources.”

Despite the mayors’ call for climate action, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in the latest GOP bid to discredit the Paris talks, released a report this week titled Senate Outlook on United States International Strategy on Climate Change in Paris 2015. The report concludes that:

  • “The president is forcing American taxpayers to pay for past economic success through his contributions to the Green Climate Fund.”
  • “The president and foreign nations in Paris plan to bypass Congress to reach a climate change deal, thus eliminating the voice of the American people who are opposed to his climate change policies.”
  • “The president is demonstrating failed leadership as he is making false promises to foreign countries about his capability to meet his greenhouse gas reduction targets.”
  • “By undermining American sovereignty and binding the American people to targets and timetables for greenhouse gas reduction targets in Paris, the president is threatening jobs, industries and communities at home.”

Also distancing himself from the Paris talks’ renewable energy goals, House Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton, R-Mich., celebrated the House energy bill vote by tweeting: “Glad we advanced a common sense energy package today that will create jobs and keep prices affordable.”

During the House floor debate, Upton acknowledged concerns about climate change. He called for developing “a resilient, efficient infrastructure, both to reduce emissions and to withstand climate-related events regardless of their causes.” He said his bill is designed to “help ensure that we have a critical energy infrastructure in place to withstand new threats, whether they be from climate or other risks such as terrorism and cyber.” But his solution is more fossil fuel use, not renewables.

Regretting that the Keystone pipeline to import Canadian crude oil was “delayed and ultimately denied,” Upton said instead what’s needed to benefit from the new abundance of U.S. oil and natural gas “is to allow the private sector to expand the nation’s energy infrastructure.” He and other Republicans said the expansion offered by the new energy bill will provide energy supply reliability, job creation, and robust economic growth throughout the U.S.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., welcomed the Upton bill as “the first step to energy independence and more American jobs.”

A House Energy Committee summary of the bill said the legislation is designed to “modernize outdated policies rooted in an era of energy scarcity to reflect today’s era of energy abundance, and make our energy infrastructure more resilient and create jobs.” To achieve these goals, the bill promises to solve pipeline and electric grid problems by removing “government red tape slowing down the siting and permitting process” and removing “costly environmental regulations.”

If the bill becomes law, it would end the 1973 ban on crude oil exports, and, according to the summary, remove other “government roadblocks,” and provide “important regulatory relief for U.S. manufacturers from burdensome federal efficiency mandates.”

The bill’s provisions that would remove some environmental regulations, ease energy efficiency standards, and favor fossil fuels triggered protests from Democrats who initially worked with Republicans with the aim of writing legislation that would attract broad bipartisan support.

Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the House Energy Committee’s ranking Democrat, said that despite the committee’s initial commitment to write “a bipartisan bill to address some of our energy infrastructure needs,” the Upton bill “has become an attempt by the Republican Party to create backward facing legislation that would replace many good provisions with legislation that would continue to reward polluters and contribute to our climate change issue.”

Pallone warned that if Republicans continue to ignore climate change and write laws that would increase rather than reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “We are putting ourselves on a track toward irreparable damage.”

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., said Democrats reject “this corporate welfare energy bill” designed “to preserve the oil and gas industry.” Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., charged that instead of promoting renewable energy, “this bill would put up roadblocks” to renewables and drive up energy costs 

Insisting that “climate change is real and humans are largely responsible,” Rep. Bill Pascrell, R-N.J., said the Upton bill would “undermine the transition to cleaner energy.” Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., called for “strong, immediate and decisive action” on climate change and said that instead of promoting greater use of fossil fuels, “United States energy policies should seek to remove market barriers that inhibit the development of renewable energy infrastructure.”

With or without Democrats’ support, final energy legislation can’t be sent to the White House until next year. More work is needed to merge the House bill with a less controversial Senate version. The Senate Energy Committee approved its Energy Policy Modernization Act in an 18 to 4 vote in July, but it has not yet been scheduled for floor action. Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who sponsored the bill along with Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., says she is “committed to seeking a vote” on the bill in the full Senate by early 2016.

Any joint House/Senate bill is expected to be closer to the Senate version because the House bill lacks the Senate’s renewable energy provisions and includes last-minute changes that reduced expected support among House Democrats – and drew a strongly worded veto threat

“The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 8 because it would undermine already successful initiatives designed to modernize the nation’s energy infrastructure and increase our energy efficiency,” the White House warned in a veto message. The memo warns specifically that along with creating other problems:

  • “H.R. 8 would stifle the nation’s move toward energy efficiency by severely hampering the Department of Energy’s (DOE) ability to provide technical support for building code development and state implementation.”
  • “In addition, the bill would undercut DOE’s ability to enforce its appliance standards and would weaken section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which requires a reduction in fossil-fuel-generated energy in federal buildings.”
  • “H.R. 8 also would unnecessarily curtail DOE’s ability to fully consider whether natural gas export projects are consistent with the public interest.”
  • “Further, H.R. 8 would undermine the current hydropower licensing regulatory process . . .”

Responding to such concerns, Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said in the House energy bill debate that “Congress should be getting out of the relationship between companies and their customers” and that “the federal government does not understand how to run a business.”

Another sign of clashing energy priorities is that 34 Senate Democrats proposed legislation last week to block oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) coastal plain. In contrast, Murkowski has introduced legislation to increase drilling in Alaska.

Charging that “Alaska is again being attacked by a group of senators who wish to impose President Obama’s destructive agenda,” Murkowski promises that “the only bill related to ANWR that has a chance of passing the Senate will be my bill.”

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