Lieberman-Warner Bill Moves to Full Committee

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 01 Nov 2007 14:41:00 GMT

At today’s markup of Lieberman Warner (S 2191), changes were made to win the support of Sen. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), ensuring passage by a 4-3 vote (Sanders, Isakson, and Barrasso voting no) to send the bill to the full Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The changes, according to CQ:
  • Extending the scope of the bill to cover all emissions from the use of natural gas. The introduced bill covered natural gas burned in power plants and industrial processes but not in commercial and residential buildings.
  • Requiring the EPA to make recommendations to Congress based on periodic reports from the National Academy of Sciences. The bill already would direct the academy to evaluate whether changes in the law are necessary, based on the state of the environment and available technology.

These were two of the four specific changes called for by NRDC at the initial hearing on the bill.

Amendments were introduced by Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Changes made by amendments adopted at the markup:
  • Advanced tech auto funding limited to vehicles with minimum of 35 mpg (Sanders 3)
  • More allocations given to states, taken from international forest protection (Barrasso 4)
  • Definition of lower-rank coal eligible for 25% of CCS funding changed from “for example, bituminous and lignite” to coal with a heat content below 10000 BTU/lb (Barrasso 3)

Sen. Isakson reiterated his passion for nuclear power, and Barrasso argued for stronger coal subsidies, a sentiment supported by Sen. Baucus. Lautenberg compared their role to that of doctors faced with a sick patient who could become terminal, asking why anyone would withhold the necessary medicine. The Senators often laughed about their needs to compromise and balance each others’ parochial interests.

Sanders and Barrasso introduced several other amendments which were not adopted. Here are some:

Sanders Update: See this post for more on the Sanders amendments
  • Amendment 1 would have designated most of the funds in the zero/low-carbon emissions fund for solar, wind, and geothermal energy. Sanders pointed out that the bill has explicit funding for coal, cellulosic ethanol, and the auto industry but none for renewables.
  • Amendment 2 would have replaced the advanced tech auto funding with funding for local and state energy efficiency grants. Sanders argued that the auto language was too weak to ensure any benefits, saying “If we do not act aggressively Detroit will be shutting down and moving to China.”
  • Amendment 4 would give EPA authority to revise targets. Withdrawn after suggestion to work on issue by Lautenberg to have EPA action with Congressional veto
  • Amendment 5 would have moved to full auction of allowances by 2026
  • Amendment 6 would have put a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants that do not capture and sequester at least 85% of their emissions.
  • Amendment 8 would have replaced the 15% offset allowance for companies with a system-wide cap on total offsets purchased. The amendment was supported by U.S. PIRG, UCS, and NRDC.
  • Amendment 9 would have required economy-wide cuts by 15% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Lieberman voted no, arguing that the 63% cuts would keep concentrations below 550 PPM by 2100 and saying “Your amendment would break the coalition and have possible other negative impacts.”
  • Amendment 1 would have set up the Rocky Mountain Center of Coal Studies at the University of Wyoming.
  • Amendment 2 would have supported high-altitude Western state (Wyoming) coal gasification demonstration projects.
  • Amendment 5 would have pushed back coal capture and sequestration targets.
  • Amendment 8 would have sunset the bill in five years. Barrasso said that China and India need to implement cap-and-trade programs in that time period.

Loan Guarantee Provisions in the 2007 Energy Bills: Does Nuclear Power Pose Significant Taxpayer Risk and Liability? 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 30 Oct 2007 14:30:00 GMT

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to learn about the loan guarantee provisions in the 2007 energy bills that have passed the House and Senate and await conference (HR. 6/HR. 3221). The Senate bill’s provision would significantly alter how the Department of Energy (DOE) provides taxpayer-funded loan guarantees for new energy technologies, especially to costly nuclear power plants. Section 124(b) of the Senate bill (HR. 6) allows loan guarantees to be given to multiple projects to construct an existing nuclear power design; exempts DOE’s loan guarantee program from Sec 504(b) of the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990 (FCRA) which allows DOE to write unlimited loan guarantees without Congressional oversight; and gives DOE unfettered access to the Incentives for Innovative Technologies Fund (EPACT 2005) without requiring appropriations or any fiscal year limitation. This provision, if adopted, would eliminate Congressional authority and the safeguards provided through the appropriations process regarding expenditures for these potentially risky projects and shift enormous financial risk from Wall Street banks to America’s taxpayers. The House-passed legislation on loan guarantees is different; it says that no eligible technology can be excluded from consideration from loan guarantees.

Because of the likelihood of delays and cost overruns in building new nuclear power plants, Wall Street banks are unwilling to accept any financial risks for nuclear power loans. Six of the nation’s largest investment banks-Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley- recently told the DOE, “We believe these risks, combined with the higher capital costs and longer construction schedules of nuclear plants as compared to other generation facilities, will make lenders unwilling at present to extend long-term credit.” Our briefing panel will discuss whether the loan guarantee provisions constitute a significant taxpayer liability and/or poor governance. Speakers include:

  • Peter Bradford, President, Bradford Brook Associates; former Chair, New York State Public Service Commission and Maine Public Utilities Commission; and former Commissioner, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Jerry Taylor, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
  • Jim Harding, CEO, Harding Consulting
  • US Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Not only is the cost to the taxpayers potentially very high, so is the risk. The Congressional Budget Office has said there is a good chance that the DOE will underestimate the costs of administering these loans and that more than 50 percent of new reactor projects will default on their loan repayments, leaving taxpayers at risk. U.S. taxpayers will be fully liable for any potential shortfalls. The nuclear industry ask is $25 billion for FY 2008 and more than that in FY 2009-more than $50 billion in two years. According to the Congressional Research Service, this is more than the $49.7 billion spent by the DOE for all nuclear power R&D in the 30 years from 1973-2003. This is also well over the Administration’s target of $4 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear and coal for FY 2008.

This briefing is open to the public and no reservations are required.

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