Throughout my career in public service, I have been a strong proponent of efforts to lower energy costs, invest in renewable energy resources, promote energy independence and create a stronger more secure economy. Increasing the nation's overall energy efficiency requires a multifaceted approach. The National Resources Defense Council reports that America's energy bill will increase by $420 billion annually within the next five years if we do nothing to reduce our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. That amounts to $3,500 annually for every family in the nation.
It is also important to address the issue of skyrocketing gas prices. There is a misconception that simply increasing production by allowing more drilling is going to magically lower gas prices. However, since 2000, the amount of drilling has increased dramatically over the past four years. In fact, since 2003, the federal government has issued far more drilling permits than the oil companies have acted on. Nearly 80 percent of offshore oil is in areas that are already open for exploration. We have to enact legislation to force oil companies to drill on the more than million acres of land that they have leased, yet remain unused.
We must also develop a comprehensive plan to address the serious energy crisis that this country faces. We cannot drill our way out of this problem given that the U.S. contains 2.2 percent of world oil reserves and consumes 25.9 percent of the world's oil consumption. Rather than invoking our brawn, we must utilize our brains and innovate, as Americans have done for generations. We can no longer afford to throw our limited federal dollars at the feet of oil giants, and must begin investing in American ingenuity and create an American clean energy economy.
For me the choice is clear, either we can drill our way further into oil dependence, turn a blind eye to the destruction of the environment while we suck out and burn every last drop of oil, and we can exacerbate public health and wellness with the extraction and consumption of dirty fuels; or we can create a new energy economy that creates millions of jobs and protects the environment and public health of future generations.
I offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2016 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2028) to increase funding by $2 million (a 25% increase) for the SuperTruck II program. The House of Representatives passed the amendment on April 29, 2015. The Department of Energy’s SuperTruck II program seeks to make dramatic improvements in the freight efficiency of heavy-duty Class 8 long-haul and regional-haul vehicles. Improvements include hybridization, more efficient idling, and high efficiency HVAC technologies. An increase to the account that funds this program was included in the H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, also known as the FY2016 Omnibus bill.
I am a cosponsor of the New Energy for America Act (H.R. 2412). This bill extends the energy tax credit for energy property, including solar energy property, qualified fuel cell property, qualified microturbine property, combined heat and power system property, and thermal energy property.
I am also a cosponsor of the Job Creation through Energy Manufacturing Act of 2015 (H.R. 2296). This bill authorizes $250 million in funding to establish a Financing Energy Efficient Manufacturing Program at the Department of Energy to provide competitive grants to states to establish or expand programs to finance energy efficient retrofits, onsite clean and renewable energy, smart grids, and alternative vehicle fleet projects for industrial businesses.
Other legislative highlights:
H.R. 5821 - The 10 Million Solar Roofs Act
Recently, I introduced, along with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the 10 Million Solar Roofs Act. If enacted, this legislation would be the single largest investment in solar technology in U.S. history. Even though the United States invented the solar cell, other nations such as Germany and Spain have outpaced us in terms of solar energy deployment. Scaling up production in the United States has been difficult because the initial costs of solar remain a large barrier to entry.
This legislation would help individuals and businesses overcome the initial cost barrier by providing funds for rebates, loans, and other incentives to eligible individuals or entities for the installation of solar energy systems. By incentivizing and expanding the adoption of solar technology, this bill would lead to the creation of 30,000 megawatts of new solar energy in the U.S., creating, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the largest solar market in the world in the U.S. Doing so would create up to 1.35 million green jobs in the next 10 years.
Solar energy is as reliable as the sunrise. And by harnessing the sun's infinite power, we can create abundant, clean energy to power an even stronger economy. The legislation I have introduced, if enacted, will create 10 million small power plants located on the roofs of American homes and businesses and more than one million green jobs. And thanks to Sharp Solar's presence in Memphis, many of these new green jobs will be located in Memphis.
The Gulf Oil Spill
On April 20th, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded killing 11 crew members and creating an oil spill that has now become the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. I commend the President and his Administration for doing everything possible, in the face of incredibly adversity, to minimize the damage of the spill on both the economy and environment of the Gulf Region.
The Deepwater Horizon Rig activities were considered by all to be a low risk drilling exploration, a classification that scares me given the countless riskier drilling ventures occurring along the coasts of this great nation. This tragedy demonstrates that no matter how technologically advanced we become, we can never guarantee the safety of our environment and our citizens when it comes to dangerous and dirty energy sources like oil and coal. In the months of March and April 2010, we have seen 42 people die in dirty energy accidents - 29 in the Massey coal mine incident, 11 in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and another two miners in an accident in Kentucky.
We have also witnessed the ecological and economic damage an incident like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill can have on dozens of species and thousands of small businesses. It is time for America to develop clean, safe energy sources that create millions of well-paying, safe jobs and enhance the environment rather than destroy it.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes funding for home weatherization, smart grid technology, energy-efficient buildings and as well as tax incentives to spur investment in renewable energy and green job creation. Among its provisions, the law:
- Helps state and local governments make investments for innovative best practices to achieve greater energy efficiency and reduce energy usage, including building and home energy conservation programs, energy audits, fuel conservation programs, building retrofits, and "Smart Growth" planning and zoning.
- Provides $300 million in consumer rebates to buy energy efficient appliances to replace old ones to lower energy bills.
- Invests $500 million in training of workers for green-collar jobs.
- Improves the energy efficiency for up to 1 million modest-income homes through weatherization, expanding the number of families (from 150 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty income levels) and the aid level (from $2,500 to $6,500 per household) to maintain the current per-household efficiency investment in the face of diminished state and other aid. This will save modest-income families on average $350 per year on heating and air conditioning bills, while creating up to 90,000 jobs.
- Provides grants of up to 30 percent of the cost of building a new renewable energy facility in 2009 and 2010 or permits that business to claim a 30 percent investment credit instead of a production tax credit.
- Promotes energy efficient investments in homes by extending and expanding tax credits through 2010 for investments such as new furnaces, energy-efficient windows and doors, or insulation. Increases the credit from 10 percent to 30 percent of the cost of the investment and raises the credit cap from $500 to $1,500, saving American families money on their energy bills.
- Spurs the next generation of cars by providing a tax credit for families that purchase plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles of up to $7,500.
- Provides clean renewable energy bonds for state and local governments, electric cooperatives and public power companies to finance renewable energy facilities to generate electricity.
- Increases incentives to install pumps that dispense alternative fuels including E85, biodiesel, hydrogen, and natural gas. More of these fuel pumps are needed for consumers with flex-fuel and alternative fuel vehicles.
- Makes an historic investment in upgrading federal buildings and making them energy efficient - working to save taxpayers over one billion dollars by slashing energy costs in our federal buildings by 25 percent.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act
In the 111th Congress, the U.S. House of Representative passed H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). This legislation includes provisions to lower greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy and decrease our dependence on foreign oil.
According an analysis by the Center for American Progress, Tennessee's Ninth Congressional district (TN-09) was listed as one of the Congressional districts who are least affected by the minimal cost from the energy bill. The lowest 28 percent income households in (TN-09) would actually receive an average net benefit of $40. ACES invests roughly $190 billion through 2025 in clean energy and energy efficiency programs, including: $90 billion in state programs to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency; $60 billion in carbon capture and sequestration technologies; $20 billion in electric and other advanced technology vehicles; and $20 billion in basic research and development into clean energy and energy efficiency.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, reports that investing in energy efficiency technology will save the average American household more than $4,000 by 2030. The bill also helps to create jobs - lots of good-paying jobs - in the new "green" industry that companies like Sharp Solar are poised to create. Also, the bill provides hundreds of millions of dollars for coal companies and oil refineries to help them overhaul and modernize their facilities to create even cheaper sources of electricity for people.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act - combined with the 2007 energy bill and the Obama Administration's plan to ramp up vehicle fuel efficiency standards - will cut the use of oil by more than five million barrels a day in 2030. That is equivalent to all the oil we currently import form the Middle East and Venezuela and one-fourth of our nation's current total daily consumption-and will save consumers more than $135 billion in fuel costs.
On December 22, 2008, a coal ash pond at Kingston, Tennessee, spilled five million cubic yards of water and coal fly ash onto 300 acres of land. It is believed that the TVA the coal ash spill is the largest in U.S. history and could cost billions of dollars in remediation and liabilities.
I subsequently wrote to the Tennessee Valley Authority on behalf of Memphis, Light Gas and Water (MLGW) requesting that TVA explore all possible means of recovering costs for the clean up of the spill to prevent passing along a potential cost increase to Tennessee utility customers. MLGW is the largest of TVA’s roughly 158 distributors and consumes about 10 percent of its electricity.
Consequently, MLGW customers, including 420,000 homes and businesses in Memphis and Shelby County, would stand to carry a considerable portion of any potential rate hike instituted as a consequence of the clean up.
It is critical for residents of the Tennessee Valley region that TVA has the means to continue to provide quality electrical service and promote economic development. Still, it is important that the TVA explore all possible means of recovering costs for the clean up of the spill.
Additionally, I have cosponsored the following pieces of legislation to lower energy costs, crack down on price gouging by oil companies, reduce our dependency on foreign oil and promote overall energy efficiency, all of which I am proud to have voted for:
H.R. 152, the Home Heating Fuels Cost Relief Act
Provides for a refundable tax credit for heating fuels and to create a grant program for States to provide individuals with loans to weatherize their homes.
H.R. 890, the American Renewable Energy Act
Requires the Secretary of Energy to establish a program to implement and enforce a renewable electricity trading program, including requirements governing the issuance, tracking, and retirement of federal renewable electricity credits.
H.R. 1778, the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) Program Act
Provide for the establishment of national energy and environmental building retrofit policies for both residential and commercial buildings.
H.R. 2129, the Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act
Makes it unlawful for any person to sell crude oil, gasoline, natural gas, or petroleum distillates at a price that is unconscionably excessive or indicates the seller is taking unfair advantage unusual market conditions.
More on Energy
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen has asked for a congressional hearing on the impacts of coal-burning energy plants and coal ash dumps on health, groundwater, and aquatic life.
Cohen wants the matter heard before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, putting the request in a Monday letter to its ranking members and to members of the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Federal and state lawmakers are calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority to expedite its efforts to clean-up the toxic coal ash in Memphis.
TVA said there are nearly three million cubic yards of coal ash still sitting at the site on President’s Island.
State Senator Brian Kelsey introduced a resolution on Wednesday urging TVA to do more to make ensure the city’s drinking water is protected since there are some toxins near the site that threaten the water supply.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) wrote to the outgoing and incoming presidents and CEOs of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) today following their recent meeting with the Tennessee congressional delegation to express his concern that they are not treating the cleanup of the coal ash found in the groundwater at the Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis with sufficient urgency. See the letter here.
Among the points Congressman Cohen makes in the letter:
Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) clean up of the coal ash at its now-idled Allen Fossil Plant could take up to 20 years and Rep. Steve Cohen told TVA leaders Tuesday that's too long.
TVA said it will close its remaining coal ash pond at the Allen plant. The federal agency is now in the process of deciding just how it will deal with the coal ash that remains at the site. Options include sealing the ash and storing it in place and removing the ash.
CLARIFICATIONS/CORRECTIONS: This story has been updated to reflect that workers for Jacobs, a contractor hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority to help clean up a 2008 coal ash spill in East Tennessee, say they were misled by supervisors about the dangers of coal ash exposure, citing safety managers who told them they could safely eat a pound of coal ash a day without harm. The company says the statements were not meant to be taken literally.
Tennessee lawmakers are considering a resolution to express support for a bill in Congress that would require TVA’s board of directors to hold open meetings.
State Sen. Ken Yager, of Kingston, is asking for a Senate resolution to support a bill in Congress to
require TVA to hold open meetings that the public can attend.
State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, explained Senate Joint Resolution 192 in a Senate committee meeting this week, in which the resolution won unanimous approval.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today asked House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on which he serves to conduct a hearing on the impact of coal plants and coal ash dumps on groundwater quality. See his letter here.
WASHINGTON – Congressmen Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Tim Burchett (TN-02) today wrote Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) President William D. Johnson demanding answers about TVA’s announcement that ratepayers might have to pay for the misdeeds of the contractor it used for cleanup work at its Kingston plant, following the nation’s worst coal ash spill.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), who was named to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology last week, today was selected by his congressional colleagues to serve on its Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and on its Subcommittee on Research and Technology.
Congressman Cohen made the following comment:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) has been named to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Committee on the recommendation of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. This will be Congressman Cohen’s third full committee assignment for the 116th Congress. Congressman Cohen also serves as a senior member of both the House Judiciary Committee (as well as chairman of its Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties) and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.