The Senate budget amendment process known as Vote-A-Rama was, in many ways, an opportunity for Senators to test policy priorities to determine where consensus may lie. Energy issues were no exception, and I’m encouraged to see that strong bipartisan support exists for many of manufacturers’ energy priorities.
The Senate passed by voice vote an amendment by Sen. Barrasso that protects exports from being bogged down by new layers of permitting and regulation, on the grounds that the exports would emit greenhouse gases after leaving the country. Sen. Barrasso’s amendment would prohibit Federal agencies from considering, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), greenhouse gas emissions produced outside the United States by any good exported from the United States. This drastic expansion of NEPA, which is being contemplated in the case of Keystone XL and for permits to export coal and natural gas, would create a precedent that could be used to block exports of all types, not just fossil fuels. Sen. Barasso’s amendment did not weaken NEPA in any way; it merely protects against efforts to expand permitting for exports further than what the law currently requires.
Two dueling amendments were voted on related to Keystone XL: one from Sen. Boxer that would preserve the regulatory status quo and one from Sen. Hoeven that would speed up the process and finally get the project approved and constructed. The Boxer amendment failed on a lopsided 66-33 vote. The Hoeven amendment passed, 62-37, the first time I can recall Keystone XL crossing the magical 60-vote threshold in the Senate. This should put the administration on notice: both the House and Senate have now demonstrated they can get a bill to approve Keystone XL on the President’s desk.
Two dueling amendments were also voted on with respect to a carbon tax: one from Sen. Whitehouse that would have returned all revenues from a carbon tax “to the American people,” and one from Sens. Blunt and Thune which would have created a budget point of order against a carbon tax bill. Both failed to get enough support to pass, although if you’re looking at numbers the Blunt amendment did better: the Whitehouse amendment failed by 41-58 while the Blunt/Thune amendment failed by 53-46.
It’s important to note that the amendment by Sen. Whitehouse not only presumes that Senators would support a carbon tax but that they would also support one that recycles 100 percent of the revenues back to consumers, such as through dividends or income tax reductions. This would force manufacturers to internalize all the added costs from the carbon tax. The NAM’s recent carbon tax study recycled 50 percent of the revenues into personal income tax reductions and the result still came out pretty negative, primarily because energy got more expensive.
There were several other energy-related amendment votes, but this group was especially meaningful to manufacturers. Despite deep divisions between the parties on many issues, it appears there might be some room for agreement when it comes to energy. That would certainly be a welcome change in Washington.
Ross Eisenberg is vice president of energy and resources policy, National Association of Manufacturers.