worker on wind turbine
The past few months have seen an unprecedented attack on environmental issues by those in Congress. With legislation such as the Great Outdoors Giveaway bill looming on the horizon, it may seem to many that the well-being of our environment has become just another casualty of bipartisan politics. But for those who support the clean energy industry and the jobs it creates, Sept. 26 marked a minor victory with the Senate’s approval of short-term spending measures, which circumvented yet another government shutdown.
The initial disagreement centered on the need to increase funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disaster relief. After a summer that saw the likes of Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and an unusual barrage of tornadoes and wildfires, there was a particular strain on the agency’s relief fund coffers. But the 79 to 12 vote brought both parties together in favor of a continuing resolution that would allocate $2.7 billion of additional funding to FEMA’s current relief efforts, therefore avoiding a dangerous political stalemate.
“Even though this continuing resolution is a temporary fix, it can still serve as a functional blueprint for future bipartisan decisions,” said The Wilderness Society’s director of conservation funding, Alan Rowsome.
Senate Democrats had initially pushed for a $6.9 billion disaster aid package, but this was countered by last week’s House Republican bill that called for $3.7 billion in aid – with the stipulation that $1 billion of that total come from cuts to clean energy programs.
Eventually, lawmakers were able to find a bit of common ground, reaching a deal after FEMA indicated that it had enough money to finance current relief efforts through the end of the week. The final agreement will provide $2.7 billion in aid, with none of that money coming from cuts to energy-related programs.
Rowsome noted that this decision to maintain clean energy funding “says a lot for the administration and for Congress caring about job growth within the clean energy industries. It also says a fair amount about our work as a community in pushing green jobs as being real and being something that should really be protected in this economic environment.”
Although the House is currently on recess, it is expected to approve the bill when it returns the week of Oct. 3. The long-term solution for the funding problem, however, is yet to be worked out.
Nonetheless, Senate Democrats’ refusal to cut into the government’s funding of clean energy programs shows a welcomed sign of commitment to the Obama administration’s goal of building a clean energy economy. Chase Huntley, clean energy policy advisor at The Wilderness Society, praised Senate leaders for “standing up to reckless gamesmanship that put at risk needed disaster relief funding by tying it to shortsighted cuts to successful clean energy programs.”
The Sept. 26 solution also demonstrated the capability of Congress to find a bipartisan resolution in a political climate that seems to be continuously reaching new levels of volatility. Provided the resolution passes the House vote when it returns to session, the Senate’s continuing resolution could stand out as a beacon of hope for a public that is growing increasingly frustrated with the ability of Congress to function properly.
“There are many issues that Congress may never agree on,” Rowsome said. “But on the issue of conservation, they have the opportunity to break this political log jam. Hopefully they’ll continue in this vein and get back to a culture of collaboration and cooperation.”