In response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history, the House of Representatives debated H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act, or CLEAR Act, which was introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV).
The CLEAR Act included unlimited liability for responsible parties that cause oil spills, significant offshore drilling and regulatory reforms, language designed to strengthen safety and environmental standards for new offshore drilling and renegotiated royalty payments, and modest Gulf restoration proposals. The CLEAR Act also included full funding, more than $900 million, for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Unfortunately, an amendment to lift the six-month federal moratorium on deepwater drilling early, pending meeting certain safety requirements, was approved on the House floor. On balance, however, the bill did far more good than harm and was a significant step forward.
On July 30, the House took up the CLEAR Act. Representative Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a motion to send H.R. 3534 back to the House Natural Resources Committee with instructions to report the bill back immediately with an amendment terminating the deepwater drilling moratorium. This motion, technically termed a motion to recommit, would have recklessly resumed deepwater drilling, and it failed by a vote of 166–239 (House roll call vote 512). NO IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. Later that day, the CLEAR Act passed the House by a vote of 209–193 (House roll call vote 513). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. Though the bill passed the full House, H.R. 3534 never came up for a vote in the Senate.
Housing accounts for 20% of our total energy usage, but increasing energy efficiency could reduce that number dramatically. For many homeowners, investing in measures that increase energy efficiency makes economic and environmental sense: the savings from lower utility bills quickly pay back the up-front cost of the improvements and decrease our dependence on dirty sources of energy. However, many consumers cannot afford new appliances, added insulation, or other improvements.
To assist consumers, Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced H.R. 5019, the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010, which was later included in a larger package, H.R. 4785, the Rural Energy Savings Program. This legislation would offer rebates or interest-free loans for efficiency measures, enabling consumers to reduce their utility bills while creating needed construction and manufacturing jobs.
H.R. 4785 would authorize $5 billion over five years to create two energy efficiency loan programs, including $850 million annually for the Home Star Energy Efficiency Loan Program to support loans to finance energy efficiency home renovations and $150 million annually for the Rural Energy Savings Program to make loans to eligible entities for energy efficiency measures in rural areas.
On September 16, the House passed H.R. 4785 by a vote of 240–172 (House roll call vote 530). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. The package was introduced in the Senate by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) as S. 3102, but it was not voted upon.
Elevated carbon dioxide emissions are not only a problem for our atmosphere. Excess carbon dioxide is also absorbed by our oceans, and is leading to changes in the chemistry of seawater in a process known as ocean acidification. A more acidic ocean could wipe out species, disrupt the food web and have an adverse impact on fishing, tourism and other important economic activities. Increased acidity also reduces carbonate—the mineral used to form the shells and skeletons of many shellfish and corals—and leads to slowed growth and weaker shells, similar to the effects of osteoporosis in humans.
On June 9, Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) made a motion to suspend the rules and adopt resolution H. Res. 989 to express the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States should adopt national policies and pursue international agreements to prevent ocean acidification, study the impacts of ocean acidification, and address the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and coastal economies. Under a suspension of the rules, a two-thirds majority of those present and voting is required for adoption. The motion was rejected by a vote of 241–170 (House roll call vote 341). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE.
Harmful algal blooms, sometimes called “red tides,” are known to kill fish, marine mammals, and birds. They can contaminate shellfish with toxins and sicken swimmers and boaters. Red tides and dead zones, which are caused by another kind of algal bloom that sucks all the oxygen out of water when it dies and decomposes, appear dozens of times each year off our coasts and in our bays and freshwater lakes. Researchers have estimated that harmful algal blooms cost coastal communities nearly $100 million every year. These blooms forced the closure of Maine’s shellfisheries for several months in 2009, costing over 3,000 jobs and shutting down a $50 million seasonal industry. They also killed more than four million fish off the coast of Texas, and over 10,000 sea birds off the northwest Pacific coast. The incidence and severity of these blooms is growing rapidly, driven by human causes such as nutrient pollution and the warming of our oceans and lakes by global climate change. Scientists have documented a 30-fold increase in the worldwide frequency of harmful algal blooms since 1960.
H.R. 3650, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, introduced by Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), would establish a national strategy for addressing harmful algal blooms and dead zones, and fund the development of regional research and action plans with the intent of improving our ability to detect, predict, and control harmful algal blooms and dead zones.
On March 12, the House passed H.R. 3650 by a vote of 251–103 (House roll call vote 109). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. The full Senate did not act on companion legislation, though a similar bill, S. 952, was passed by the Commerce Committee.
The health of the Upper Mississippi River Basin is a critical national environmental issue. For more than 100 years, river management as well as nutrients and sediment coming into the river have had an adverse effect on the health of the Upper Basin. Water quality and habitat for birds and wildlife have steadily declined. In addition, the management in the Upper Basin leads to increased problems downstream and in the Gulf of Mexico, including the growing hypoxic zone in the Gulf.
Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced H.R. 3671, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Protection Act, which authorizes $6.25 million each year for a program to monitor the environmental quality of the River Basin under the direction of the Department of Interior through the United States Geological Survey.
On March 19, H.R. 3671 passed by a vote of 289–121 (House roll call vote 137). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. A hearing was held in the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power on companion legislation, S. 2779, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), but there was no further Senate action.
Environmental education prepares Americans for 21st century green jobs, increases interest in science, technology, engineering and math, and helps create the next generation of environmental stewards. Ocean and watershed education is needed now more than ever in light of 2010’s devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history.
Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) introduced H.R. 3644, the Ocean, Coastal, and Watershed Education Act, to authorize and increase funding for two key National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) education programs, the national Environmental Literacy Grants (ELG) program and the regional Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program. ELG helps NOAA establish new partnerships with top science centers, aquaria and education institutions to deliver environmental education materials to thousands of teachers who educate students and the public about vital issues around our changing planet. B-WET provides competitive grants to
leverage existing environmental education programs in several regional watersheds around the country. B-WET not only educates students about the environment, it also facilitates outdoor learning in the watershed.
On March 19, the House passed H.R. 3644 by a vote of 244–170 (House roll call vote 142). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. The Senate did not vote on H.R. 3644, although a broader authorization for NOAA’s education programs that did not include specific funding levels was included in H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Act, which was signed into law by the President on January 4, 2011.
Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems on earth. Their unique mix of freshwater and saltwater allows for a diversity of plant, animal and aquatic species, and the associated wetlands and riparian zones provide countless ecosystem benefits and protection from storm surges and weather events. 75% of the United States commercial fish catch and 80–90% of the recreational fish catch comes from estuaries.
To protect these important systems in the face of mounting stresses from development and increased pollution loads, Congress created the National Estuary Program (NEP) in 1987 to protect and restore 28 biologically diverse and productive estuarine systems throughout the United States.
H.R. 4715, the Clean Estuaries Act of 2010, reauthorizes the NEP for an additional seven years, and increases the annual authorized funding level to $50 million. H.R. 4715 requires periodic updates to restoration plans and seeks to improve coordination by requiring federal agencies to participate in the management planning process. Finally, it requires that approved programs must now identify estuary vulnerabilities to climate change impacts, including sea level rise, and prepare adaptation responses, as well as work to educate the public on estuary health issues and develop performance measures and targets.
On April 15, the House passed H.R. 4715 by a vote of 278–128 (House roll call vote 209). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee amended and reported the bill on June 30, but it was never considered on the Senate floor.
Representative Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX) and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced legislation to expand the boundary of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park by 151 acres and conduct a study of potential land acquisitions. H.R. 4438’s innovative expansion would be managed through cooperative agreements, and ownership would remain with existing agencies and institutions.
One of the areas that would be studied for potential inclusion within the Park’s boundary
is eight miles of the San Antonio River. The lands considered in the 151-acre boundary adjustment would provide a vital buffer to the San Antonio River and receive treatments to remove invasive exotic plants. Adding eight additional miles would also help the river fully recover from the devastating effects of channelization and begin the long process of natural ecosystem restoration. Finally, the bill would expand green space in a densely populated urban area.
On July 13, the House took up H.R. 4438 under suspension of the rules and passed the bill by a vote of 264–114 (House roll call vote 435). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. Although a hearing was held on September 29 on companion bill S. 3524 in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests as well as the Subcommittee on National Parks, no further Senate action was taken to advance this legislation.
Global warming is the central environmental challenge of our time. In 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that global warming pollutants were covered by the Clean Air Act and directed the EPA to determine whether the continued emission of such pollutants endangered the country’s public health and welfare. In December 2009, the EPA issued this “endangerment finding,” concluding that, based on the best science, global warming pollution presents a clear threat to public health and welfare. The endangerment finding was the scientific determination necessary to allow the agency to start limiting global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act.
Representatives introduced eight bills to block, weaken, or delay the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act to reduce harmful global warming pollution. These bills fall into three categories: Congressional Review Act disapproval resolutions to overturn the EPA’s science-based endangerment finding, legislation declaring that greenhouse gases are not pollutants subject to the Clean Air Act, and legislation delaying the EPA’s actions to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s biggest stationary sources of pollution, like coal plants and oil refineries. The four disapproval resolutions (H.J. Res. 66, H.J. Res. 76, H.J. Res. 77, H. Res. 974) would, for the first time, substitute Congress’ political judgment for the EPA’s scientific judgment on the public health threat posed by pollution. The three bills (H.R. 391, H.R. 4396, H.R. 4572) declaring that greenhouse gases are not pollutants under the Clean Air Act would reverse the Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 decision. The bill to delay the EPA’s actions (H.R. 4753) would put a stop-work order on the EPA’s commonsense steps to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and refineries, among other large polluters. These harmful bills would overturn sound science, threaten public health, increase our dependence on oil, and block long-overdue action to address climate change and to hold the nation’s biggest polluters accountable.
201 representatives cosponsored one or more of these Dirty Air Acts during the 111th Congress. COSPONSORSHIP IS THE ANTI-ENVIRONMENT ACTION. None of these bills came to a vote in the House. However, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) offered a disapproval resolution (S.J. Res. 26) to overturn the EPA’s endangerment finding, which was defeated on June 10. Due to the unusual nature of scoring cosponsorships, more information can be found on the Dirty Air Act Cosponsorship page.