Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Capitol Hill (H/t Francis Chung/E&E News)
Senate Republicans have retained provisions to streamline permitting for critical mineral projects in their scaled-back COVID-19 proposal expected to see a vote this week, sparking complaints from Democrats that the measure is handing “corporate welfare” to polluters.
But gone from the new “targeted” relief package, unveiled yesterday, are several other energy-related provisions contained in the $1 trillion Senate GOP bill — the “Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act” — released in July.
Scrapped items include $1.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program as well as $307 million for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to support COVID-19-related research (E&E Daily, July 28).
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defended the scaled-back bill from Democratic complaints, saying his caucus had focused on “some of the most urgent, most bipartisan subjects that seemed especially ripe for agreement.”
“The Democratic leaders have spent months playing these Goldilocks games,” he said on the Senate floor yesterday. “They’ve complained about every single thing we’ve put forward. But they’ve produced nothing of their own with any chance of becoming law.”
McConnell later moved to close debate on the new legislation, setting up a likely procedural vote tomorrow.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the revised bill “completely inadequate” and seized on the critical minerals provisions — based on S. 1317, written by Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
The bipartisan Murkowski bill, which enjoys support from ENR ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), aims to speed up permitting for domestic mining of critical minerals and looks to reduce U.S. dependence and secure supply chains.
It would create a Manchin-backed program to develop separation technologies for the extraction and recovery of rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts.
Schumer said in floor remarks, “God forbid our Republican friends miss an opportunity to reward corporate polluters in their coronavirus relief bill.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and former Democratic presidential candidate, also denounced the coal provision on Twitter, calling it “pathetic” that the GOP’s new COVID-19 bill would provide “$161 million in corporate welfare to the coal industry during a climate emergency.”
Sanders is referencing the bill’s proposed authorization of $23 million annually through 2028 for the program.
As expected, the new Senate GOP bill contains broad liability provisions to protect businesses and schools from COVID-19 litigation, something that has been roundly criticized by Democrats and environmentalists.
It would extend federal unemployment benefits that lapsed in July through Dec. 27 at $300 a week — half of what Congress had earlier approved.
The bill also would provide a new round of funding and reforms for the popular small-business lending program known as the Paycheck Protection Program at a cost of $257 billion.
However, the total cost of the bill would be offset by reducing by $204 billion existing Federal Reserve loans to boost the liquidity of the financial system, according to a summary.
In a nod to growing concerns over mail delivery delays, the measure would forgive a $10 billion loan to the U.S. Postal Service authorized in earlier pandemic relief legislation.
The bill would also provide $177.5 billion in emergency relief funds, including $105 billion for schools to reopen, $16 billion for testing and contact tracing, $31 billion for vaccine development, $20 billion in agricultural assistance, and $500 million for fisheries that have been harmed by the pandemic.
While members of both parties last week called for fisheries assistance to be distributed to the Great Lakes region, the text of the Senate GOP bill says the funds “shall only be allocated to states of the United States in, or bordering on, the Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic Ocean, or the Gulf of Mexico,” as well as several U.S. territories and federally recognized tribes on the West Coast and Alaska (Greenwire, Sept. 3).
While the bill includes $20 billion set aside for agriculture, it does not specify which commodities or other farm-related priorities should receive funding, putting that authority in the Agriculture Department’s hands.
That’s a break from the approach in the House, where lawmakers have specified aid for ethanol producers, for instance.
Biofuel advocates have been pushing for specific language to help ethanol companies recover some of their costs from earlier this year, when they bought feedstocks such as corn, only to see demand crumble and plants shut down.
Sen. Chuck Grassley told agriculture reporters yesterday that he and Sen. Joni Ernst, both Iowa Republicans, will “keep contacting and contacting and contacting” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to target aid toward ethanol if final legislation doesn’t specify it.
Also absent from the new Senate bill are provisions from two bills that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested last week could find a home in the next relief package (E&E Daily, Sept. 8).
The first, a Cornyn-led bill, S. 4041, would ease the tax and royalty burdens on oil and gas producers.
The second, H.R. 7734, recently introduced in the House, would allow companies to “monetize” a number of general business tax credits — including the renewable and investment tax credits that are crucial for clean energy companies.
Reporter Marc Heller contributed.
Reprinted from E&E Daily with the permission of E&E News. Copyright 2020. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net.