The Corner

Vital Votes on Energy Today

The House is voting today on Rep. Fred Upton’s Energy Tax Prevention Act and the Senate will be voting on the McConnell amendment, both of which would prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions and possibly raising energy costs. The Democrats are doing their best to make this sound like a pair of votes on the science of global warming. They aren’t. They’re votes on who makes laws, Congress or the EPA.

The Senate votes are worth a close look. Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled votes on the McConnell, Rockefeller, Baucus, and Stabenow amendments to S. 493, the SBIR-TTR re-authorization bill, for some time after 4 p.m. today. The McConnell amendment is the Senate version of the Energy Tax Prevention Act. The other amendments are attempts to give some ground without blocking EPA regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions permanently (that is, until Congress authorizes such regulations). This shows how far the debate has shifted.

It appears that the three straddling amendments may each get 15 to 30 votes and that the McConnell amendment (#183) will get 51 or perhaps even 52 votes, but will not be adopted because it is not a germane amendment and therefore requires 60 votes to survive a point of order. All 47 Republicans are expected to vote for it, plus Manchin, Landrieu, Nelson of Nebraska, and Pryor, and maybe one more Democrat, such as McCaskill. Reid could, of course, still change his mind.

The White House yesterday sent a veto threat to the Hill: “If the President is presented with this legislation, which would seriously roll back the CAA authority, harm Americans’ health by taking away our ability to decrease carbon pollution, and undercut fuel efficiency standards that will save Americans money at the pump while decreasing our dependence on oil, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.” This indicates two things: that passage is becoming a real possibility; and that the White House is sending a message that some House Democrats who want to get reelected can vote for it in the knowledge that the White House is standing by to save them from the consequences. What will happen if the measure is attached to a difficult-to-veto resolution makes for an interesting thought experiment.

As for the effects of the regulations if the president allows them to go head, be sure to check out this February study from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which shows that lower-income householders, minority households, and senior citizens would be the most affected by rising energy costs. Key takeaways from the study:

  • Lower-income households are paying nearly a quarter of their income for energy costs. The 27 million lower-income households earning between $10,000 and $30,000, representing 23% of U.S. households, will allocate 23% of their 2011 after-tax income to energy, more than twice the national average of 11%.

  • Minority households are disproportionately impacted by higher energy costs. In 2009, 62% of Hispanic households and 67% of black households had average annual incomes below $50,000, compared with 46% of white households and 39% of Asian households. Energy costs represent a much larger fraction of disposable income for households earning less than $50,000 than for wealthier families. Due to these income inequalities, the burdens of energy price increases are imposed disproportionately on black and Hispanic households.

  • Senior citizens living on fixed incomes are particularly vulnerable to energy price increases. Seniors have the highest per capita residential energy consumption among all age categories. The average basic Social Security income of 31.5 million senior households was $15,443 in 2009. The median income of 25.3 million households with a principal householder aged 65 or older was $31,354.

So the president has threatened the most vulnerable Americans with a substantial rise in their energy costs. That’s leadership for you!

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