published Saturday, July 16th, 2011

U.S. House changes course on energy

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republicans in the U.S. House took a step this week to pivot the nation away from renewable energy programs.

After a week of heated debate, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed the 2012 Energy, Water and Related Agencies Appropriations bill with only one vote to spare.

The legislation cuts $1 billion from energy- and water-related spending, winding back investments in more fuel-efficient vehicles and renewable energy programs intended to wean the nation off fossil fuels.

House Republican leaders garnered 219 votes for the controversial legislation; 218 votes were needed for passage.

Throughout the week the members of the Tennessee and Georgia congressional delegations were on the fence over the legislation, as a flurry of amendments were offered to either increase the bill’s price tag or reduce it significantly.

On Tuesday Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he was a firm “no” on the bill because it didn’t do enough to slash the federal deficit.

In the end, he supported the legislation after numerous amendments were accepted to reduce the cost of the bill further.

“Because the House Republican leaders allowed an open debate, we were able to introduce and pass a number of extra spending cuts to the bill, which brought spending levels very close to 2006 levels,” he said. “With those extra savings for the taxpayer, I was able to support the final version of the bill.”

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., also ended up supporting the bill, but only after amendments that would have reduced funding for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory were defeated by the GOP majority.

“There will always be belt tightening,” he said in an interview. “But we will be able to fare far better than other sites across the country.”

Democrats attempted to shift hundreds of millions of dollars away from nuclear safety and weapons programs and into renewable energy and weatherization programs.

Environmentalists accuse the GOP bill of making the nation more reliant on fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, while also making mountaintop mining easier.

“Basically what we’re seeing in the House of Representatives is a broad attack on our public health, our land and water,” said Anna Aurilio of Environment America.

“The coal, oil and nuclear industry allies have teamed up to slash programs that save consumers money and will build us a cleaner, greener energy future,” she added in an interview.

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