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.
In January, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a Congressional Review Act disapproval resolution (S.J. Res. 26) that would overturn EPA's endangerment finding. The resolution would prevent the EPA from taking the necessary steps under the Clean Air Act to address global warming pollution. In particular, the resolution would dismantle the clean vehicles standards negotiated by the Obama administration and supported by the auto industry, labor, states, and environmentalists, putting at risk standards that are estimated to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the program. In addition to blocking the clean cars standards, the resolution would have blocked new commonsense safeguards to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink from global warming pollution from some of our country's biggest polluters.
On June 10, the Senate defeated S.J. Res. 26 by a vote of 47–53 (Senate roll call vote 184). NO IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. Similar versions of this legislation were introduced in the House, but no bill came to a vote.
The oil and gas industry receives billions of dollars of government support each year through loopholes in the tax code and royalty-free lease agreements. These subsidies dwarf the incentives that are currently available for renewable energy and energy efficiency and distort the market in favor of this mature industry that is a major source of global warming and other toxic pollutants. President Obama called for the elimination of many of these subsidies in his budgets for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 and agreed to eliminate these subsidies in a pledge made with other world leaders at a Group of 20 Summit in 2009. Congress, however, has not taken the steps necessary to end these subsidies.
In June, the Senate took up H.R. 4213, the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act of 2010, which would extend unemployment benefits to long term out of work Americans for an additional four months. Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) offered an amendment to the bill to eliminate $35 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, giveaways which were targeted for elimination in the President's budget; $25 billion of the savings would go to deficit reduction and $10 billion would be directed to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, a grant program that allows communities to invest in projects that reduce energy usage.
On June 15, the Senate rejected the Sanders amendment by a vote of 35–61 (Senate roll call vote 187). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE.
A tax credit for biodiesel was created in 2004 as part of the JOBS Act, which provided $1.00 to the fuel blenders for each gallon of biodiesel blended into petroleum diesel. The credit expired at the end of 2009. Since the creation of this tax credit, the environmental benefit of biodiesel has been called into question as expanded soybean and other biodiesel feedstock production has contributed to the destruction of natural ecosystems and increased agricultural inputs. The credit is considered a driver of biodiesel production in the United States, resulting in environmental damage worldwide. For example, biodiesel produced from soybeans in the United States results in a significant amount of land use change internationally, and expanded soybean production is a primary factor in the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest.
Multiple proposals were introduced throughout 2010 to retroactively extend the biodiesel tax credit. On September 16, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced a motion to suspend the rules in order to consider an amendment to H.R. 5297, the Small Business Jobs Act, that would retroactively extend the biodiesel tax credit.
The motion was defeated by a vote of 41–58 (Senate roll call vote 234), which prevented Senator Grassley from offering the amendment to extend the tax credit for biodiesel. NO IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. The tax credit for biodiesel was ultimately extended in December in H.R. 4853, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which was signed into law by President Obama on December 18.
Federal investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency is essential to support these burgeoning industries as our country transitions away from fossil fuels towards a new energy future. Clean energy and energy efficiency received significant support in the economic recovery package of 2009, which boosted these critical industries at a time of economic crisis. Unfortunately, the 111th Congress failed to enact additional policies that would further unleash the job-creation potential of these industries, either in the form of a comprehensive clean energy and global warming bill or a federal Renewable Electricity Standard. However, as the Congress drew To a close, senators were presented with a unique opportunity to invest in these industries.
During consideration of H.R. 4853, legislation to extend the George W. Bush administration tax cuts, Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) proposed an amendment that would reject extending the tax cuts for the top income earners and use the savings to help low-income families and invest in clean energy. The Sanders amendment would provide critical funding for state and local energy efficiency projects, tax credits for investments in clean energy manufacturing, and loan guarantees for clean energy projects.
On December 15, the Sanders motion was defeated by a vote of 43–57 (Senate roll call vote 275). YES IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE.
Exposure to lead is linked to a range of human health impacts, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death. Children under the age of six are most at risk. To improve public health, the EPA now requires that firms performing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in pre-1978 homes, child care facilities, and schools be certified to do so by the EPA. They also must use certified renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers to follow lead-safe work practices. Individuals can become certified renovators by taking an eight-hour training course. The rule mandating this requirement was published on April 22, 2008, and became effective on April 22, 2010.
On May 27, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced an amendment to H.R. 4899, the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010, that would deny funding for several months to the EPA to hold contractors liable for violating this rule. There was considerable debate at the time about the extent to which contractors had been provided with enough training opportunities by the EPA, with some senators arguing that there were insufficient opportunities and others countering that a myriad of opportunities had been provided and were continuing to be offered. Whatever the merits of each view, the fact remains that this amendment would not only prohibit the EPA from fining those contractors who had wanted to undergo safety training but were unable to do so through no fault of their own; the amendment could also prohibit the agency from fining those contractors
who willfully took no precautions to confine or contain lead-contaminated paint chips, even if it resulted in the lead poisoning of children.
The amendment (Senate roll call vote 173) passed by a vote of 60–37. NO IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE. The amendment was not included in the final supplemental appropriations bill that became law. On June 18, the EPA extended the time for contractors to complete training until the end of 2010.
Nearly one-third of the 1,950 mile United States-Mexico border lies within military, tribal, and public lands, including wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests, national monuments, and state parks. Much of this country's most magnificent and imperiled wildlife — including jaguars, ocelot, bighorn sheep, Sonoran pronghorn, and hundreds of bird species—depend upon these public lands for intact habitat. Local communities also rely on access to protected natural areas for clean water, recreation, economic development, and high quality of life.
The 2005 REAL ID Act included a controversial provision that gives the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unprecedented authority to waive all federal, state, and local laws to construct border barriers and walls, bypassing legal compliance and important public processes fundamental to America's democratic principles. Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff invoked this authority on several occasions, including most egregiously in April 2008 when he waived 35 federal public health, safely, environmental, and cultural laws along 500 miles of the United States-Mexico border. As a result, hundreds of miles of walls and accompanying roads have been constructed in an environmentally-destructive fashion, causing damaging floods and erosion, fracturing habitat and migration corridors that are vital to maintaining healthy wildlife populations, separating local communities, and wasting taxpayer dollars through poor and rushed planning.
During consideration of H.R. 4899, the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) made a motion to suspend the rules to permit consideration of an environmentally harmful amendment that would require completion of at least 700 miles of reinforced wall along the Southwest border within one year of the bill's passage, at minimum doubling the wall mileage currently along the Southwest border.
On May 27, the DeMint motion to suspend Senate procedural rules to permit consideration of this damaging amendment failed by a vote of 45–52 (Senate roll call vote 172). NO IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE.