Letter to Senate on Senate Energy Bill
On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we write to raise significant concerns with the Energy Policy Modernization Act, S.2012. While this bill contains some provisions our organizations have supported in the past, notably permanent reauthorization of the nation’s premier public lands program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and positive energy efficiency measures, it also includes provisions that threaten our land, air, water, wildlife and public health. Our primary concerns with the bill are provisions that would undermine the National Environmental Policy Act; repeal requirements to transition federal buildings away from fossil fuels; expedite approvals for liquefied natural gas exports; block energy efficiency appliance standards; and limit protections for fish, wildlife and water quality at hydropower dams.
No 21st-century energy bill should provide categorical exclusions for geothermal projects—or any projects—under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA ensures that federal agencies assess the environmental, economic, and public health impacts of a project. Arbitrary and legislatively-mandated categorical exclusions like the one in this bill directly undermine meaningful public participation, government transparency, and accountability. They put communities at risk by encouraging hasty, ill-considered decisions that sacrifice long-term societal interests for short-sighted interests that inflict irreversible damage on the public and the environment it depends on. To speed up permitting, Congress should appropriate the requisite funds for implementation of NEPA, not undermine the integrity of important project reviews.
There are also provisions in this bill that the Obama Administration has stated they would oppose. In the Statement of Administration Policy that they issued on HR 8, the energy bill that was passed by the House of Representatives late last year, the bill drew a veto recommendation and stated:
“H.R. 8 would stifle the Nation's move toward energy efficiency...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.”
The Administration knows what we know. We simply cannot address the threat of climate change without addressing carbon pollution from the building sector, and Federal facilities must represent the best in American design, technology, and innovation. Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) hoped to achieve just that by requiring new federal buildings and buildings that undergo significant renovations, be designed to reduce their carbon footprint. Section 433 already sends a strong signal to the design, construction and product manufacturing industries that the buildings of the future must be more efficient and less polluting.
Similarly, this bill seeks to expedite liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications by forcing the Department of Energy (DOE) to speed through its decision-making process for LNG exports and put both the public interest and our environment at risk. It would force decisions on applications to construct LNG export terminals within 45 days of the publishing of a final environmental impact statement, a finding of no significant impact, or the enactment of the bill, whichever comes last. These decisions will have impacts beyond the site of each terminal. Expanding LNG exports will lead to increased fracking, a practice known to pollute our air, our water, and our health.
We also oppose Section 1103 of this bill, which would block the Department of Energy from finalizing a much-needed update to the efficiency standards for non-weatherized gas and mobile home furnaces. These upgrades are expected to save the average consumer six hundred dollars over the life of the furnace and could deliver energy bill savings of up to $19 billion over 30 years beginning in 2012. High-efficiency furnaces are estimated to have already saved approximately one hundred and twenty-seven million metric tons of carbon dioxide and if we allow DOE to continue to do its job, appliance standards will continue to have a critical role in our nation’s energy policy.
While we appreciate that in the markup of S. 2012 the Committee removed the most egregious provisions from the hydropower title, we remain concerned that the underlying bill still weakens the authorities of States, Tribes, and federal natural resources agencies to protect fish, wildlife, public lands, Native American reservations, and water quality. For example, Section 3001 of the bill seeks to limit agencies from, as part of the relicensing process, requiring power companies to conduct new studies into the impacts of their dams. This section would apply even if the dam’s existing license, and thus the studies that the current license depends on, are more than 50 years old and pre-date modern environmental statutes and changing climate conditions. Further, Section 3001 requires federal natural resource agencies, to conduct costly, wasteful and time consuming review of matters outside of their scope of expertise and jurisdiction, which will lead to increased costs to taxpayers and unnecessary delays in licensing.
Without a stronger vision for accelerating the development and deployment of clean energy and the elimination of these problematic provisions, this bill is, on balance, a missed opportunity. As such, our organizations cannot support this legislation unless it is improved on the Senate floor.
Thank you for your consideration.
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Page Updated February 1, 2016