Capitol Hill Watch: Strong Clean Energy Proponent Tapped for Commerce Sec't; Wildland Protection Dropped; GOP Wants Deeper Renewables Cuts

Strong Clean Energy Proponent Tapped For Commerce Secretary

President Obama nominated a strong proponent of clean energy and cleantech to be the next US Secretary of Commerce. John Bryson co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the leading environmental non-profits and chairs the board of US solar thermal company BrightSource Energy.

Bryson was CEO of Edison International, a NYSE-listed electric utility for 18 years. Before that he served as the first chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board in the late 1970s and then as the head of the California Public Utilities Commission.

The nomination of Bryson as the replacement for Gary Locke is a welcome signal that the administration will continue to focus on rebuilding the national economy through the clean energy.

NRDC President Frances Beinecke called Bryson a "visionary leader in promoting a clean environment and a strong economy."

Republicans, of course, plan to filibuster the appointment.

Step Backwards on Wildlands Policy

Unlike Bryson, other department heads continue to disappoint the environmental community.  

One of them is Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar. After recently opening a huge swath of coal deposits to development in Wyoming, he backed away yesterday from an ambitious plan to expand wilderness protection to millions of acres in the western US. 

Salazar released a memo stating his agency will not designate any public lands as "wild lands."

That decision reverses an order issued in December that would have made vast stretches of public lands eligible for increased environmental protection under the "wilderness" designation.

The reversal is attributed to the budget compromise made with Congressional Republicans last month to keep the federal government open for oil and gas exploration. The deal stripped funding for implementing wilderness policy. Several Western states also sued the federal government to block expansion of wilderness designations. 

William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, says Salazar’s decision ignores the Bureau of Land Management’s obligation to protect wilderness values.

"Without strong and decisive action from the Department of Interior, wilderness will not be given the protection it is due, putting millions of acres of public lands at risk," he says.

GOP Proposes Deeper Cuts to Energy and Water Budget

House Republicans on Wednesday released a scaled back budget proposal for energy and water that cuts an additional $1.06 billion from energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

That’s on top of $2 billion in reductions already enacted in April. The total budget proposal is $30.6 billion.

Not surprisingly, Republicans proposed an increase to the Department of Energy’s funding for nuclear weapons activities ($7.1 billion), while offering less than half of what the president asked for in funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. Republicans set the figure at $1.3 billion – $491 million below current funding.

Funding for DOE science programs was maintained at $4.8 billion, just $42 million below current levels. And funding for the Army Corps of Engineers also held steady at around $4.77 billion.

Budget reconciliation with Democrats is shaping up to be the biggest political issue of 2011, as lawmakers fight over what is the correct path to long-term economic recovery.

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