This Week in the Congress

by Myron Ebell on November 6, 2011

in Blog

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Sen. Rand Paul Files for Vote to Overturn Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has filed a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to disapprove the Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR).  A vote on the Senate floor could come as early as 9th or 10th November. The CSAPR has come under intense criticism from a number of States and several major electric utilities.  EPA has responded by proposing some limited modifications.

Under CRA rules, once thirty Senators have sponsored a resolution of disapproval, it can be brought to the floor at any time even if the Majority Leader opposes doing so, no amendments are in order, a final vote cannot be blocked by procedural maneuvers, and passage requires only a simple majority rather than the 60 votes usually required.

If the Senate passes the resolution, which seems possible but unlikely, the House will probably schedule a vote within a few days.  The House has already voted for a rider to delay the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.  If both chambers pass the resolution, then it will be up to President Obama to sign or veto it.

Update on Solyndra

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted on Thursday, 3rd November, to subpoena White House documents related to the Solyndra scandal.  Fourteen of the subcommittee’s Republicans voted to give Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) authority to issue the subpoena, while nine Democrats voted no.

Chairman Upton and Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) argued that the subpoena was necessary because the Obama Administration had delayed turning over documents consistently since the subcommittee launched its investigation of the Solyndra loan in February.  This is not an isolated instance of stonewalling by the Obama Administration, as my CEI colleague, Chris Horner, details in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner.

Former Democratic Chairmen of the Energy and Commerce Committee John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) argued that issuing a subpoena to the White House was unprecedented in the history of the committee and was unnecessary because the White House had recently expressed willingness to co-operate with the investigation.

The most ludicrous argument was made by Representative Ed Markey D-Mass.).  He claimed that the fossil fuel industry (King Coal and Big Oil) were trying to smear the Solyndra loan because they were losing market share to wind and solar power.  They were thus trying to game the political system because they couldn’t compete in the market with wind and solar.

Markey is often good for a laugh, but this was one of his biggest howlers ever.  Wind and solar power provide a small but increasing amount of electricity, but would provide close to zero if they were not politically supported by mandates in many States and multiple federal subsidies, some of which date back to the 1970s.

An Associated Press story reported that Administration documents already obtained by the Stearns investigation show that the Administration considered and rejected a further infusion of taxpayer dollars into Solyndra just a few days before the company declared bankruptcy on 31st August.  The bailout was recommended in a report by Lazard Ltd., which concluded that Solyndra was about to fail unless DOE provided more money.  Interestingly, DOE paid Lazard $1 million for its analysis.

While DOE was aware this summer that Solyndra was heading towards bankruptcy, top company officials were being giving large bonuses in the months before the company went bust.  According to a story in the Mercury News, at least two executives were given $60,000 bonuses in April and then $60,000 more in July.

Solyndra’s creditors can take a bit of solace from the fact that the scandal has increased the value of some of its assets.  At a liquidation sale ordered by the bankruptcy court at its Fremont, California headquarters this week, many items were fetching top dollar.  Most amusingly, one former Solyndra employee bought the thirty-foot banner that was the backdrop when President Obama visited in 2010.  He paid $400 for the banner, which read, Solyndra, the new shape of solar” and “Made in the USA.”

Energy Department: More Than 100 Criminal Investigations into Green Stimulus Spending

The Inspector General of the Department of Energy, Gregory H. Friedman, testified before a House Subcommittee on 2nd November that his investigations had uncovered multiple problems with DOE’s spending of stimulus money.

Friedman also testified that his office has launched more than 100 criminal investigations into the misuse of DOE stimulus funds. Friedman concluded that DOE was simply not capable of efficiently distributing all the money provided by the stimulus bill in a timely way.The $35 billion in DOE stimulus funds was considerably larger than DOE’s budget of $27 billion at the time.

Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) drew a conclusion from Friedman’s testimony (quoted in a Greenwire story by John McArdle): “The available evidence seems to indicate that programs put forth by this administration aimed at promoting green energy and green jobs have failed and should end.”

Rep. Pompeo Introduces Bill to End All Energy Subsidies

Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-Ks.) and Raul Labrador (R-Id.) introduced a bill this week to repeal all subsidies for renewable and conventional energy.  H. R. 3308, the Energy Freedom and Economic Prosperity Act, has attracted support from a number of free market and fiscal conservative groups, but was immediately attacked by some of the biggest recipients of taxpayer handouts.  A bill, H. R. 3307, to extend renewable subsidies through 2016 was introduced  by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Oreg.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) immediately before Rep. Pompeo filed his bill.

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