$1 Trillion Spending Bill Passes With Major Poison Pill

Congress approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill for fiscal 2016 today, and there’s great news for renewable energy, GMO food and wildlife … in exchange for one, big poison pill.

The biggest news is that crucial solar and wind tax incentives are renewed for five years in exchange for lifting the 40-year ban on exporting US crude oil.

Can the difference between Democrats and Republicans be clearer? The former pulled out all the stops for renewable energy, the latter for oil.

Why only 5 years of renewal for renewable energy, but a permanent lift for oil? And why are fossil subsidies still in place permanently? While we’re thrilled that renewables will get more support, it seems like far from a fair trade.

Obama Budget 2016

Republicans (and their oil backers) claim the US oil industry needs access to the world market at this time of low prices and with Iran about to enter. Since they don’t believe climate change is real, that’s a non-issue.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters that Democrats "asked for the sun and the moon and the aurora borealis" in exchange for lifting the ban.

To those of us who want the sun, moon and Earth, lifting the ban means oil companies will want to drill and explore everywhere and fill our country with pipelines and oil trains … increasing US emissions and putting citizens at risk.

The ban was put in place in 1975 to protect Americans from the OPEC oil embargo and future similar crises. 

"This deal gives oil drillers an enormous policy win that does our economy no good and threatens climate progress made in Paris. A five-year renewable energy tax credit extension is cold comfort to everyone who supports a forward-looking clean energy economy and an end to constant oil favoritism in Congress," says Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D- AZ).

"It is corporate welfare for the most profitable industry in the history of the world, the oil industry," moans Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). 

"By lifting the crude oil export ban, Congressional Republicans are opting to export American jobs, escalate fossil fuel development, rip up iconic American landscapes to extract more oil, and increase climate disrupting carbon emissions," says Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club.

Lifting the ban could lead to 7600 new wells – mostly fracking – each year, raising oil production by 3.3 million barrels a day and increasing emissions on par with 135 new coal-fired power plants, says Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.

How Democrats and Republicans Faired

Generally, Democrats won relief from tough sequester spending caps and removed over 100 riders ranging from blocking the Clean Power Plan to undercutting Dodd-Frank financial regulations and the health care law. 

Republicans got a $33 billion boost for defense – a 6% increase, bringing the Pentagon budget to $523 billion, in addition to lifting the 40-year ban on oil exports.

Amazingly, Republicans also won: 

  • language that bars the IRS from issuing a rule in 2016 that better defines nonprofits to prevent political and "dark money" organizations from masquerading as non-profits. 
  • language that blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose political spending.  

Renewable Energy Tax Credits

Both the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind and the Investment Tax Credits (ITC) for solar and off-shore wind are renewed for five years. Yes!!

For the first two years – which includes 2015, because it expired last year – the wind PTC is 100%. Each year after that, it declines by 20% until 2020 when it expires again. 

For the first three years, the solar ITC maintains the 30% write-off for homeowners and businesses to install solar, declining to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021.

Both the PTC and ITC can be claimed when construction commences rather than when a project begins generating energy. 

"While this deal does not provide parity with the permanent federal tax code benefits the fossil fuel industry enjoys, the five-year extension provides greater certainty to the clean energy industry, and helps avoid the boom-bust cycle of the year-to-year uncertainty of expiring credits," says Todd Wolf of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Without renewal, both the solar and wind industries would significantly slow down, exactly when we need to keep them growing faster. Obama’s budget extended the incentives permanently.

Read our article, Expiring Tax Credits Spur Doubling of US Solar

Impacts on Environmental Side:

  • Prevents even steeper funding cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency – already cut to the bone – and increases funding for the Department of Interior.
    EPA’s funding levels remain flat with the lowest staffing levels since 1989. Republicans wanted another $718 million cuts for the agency they most despise. 
  • Removes the DARK Act, which prohibits states from requiring GMO labels on food;
  • Requires labels on the GMO salmon that was just approved!
  • Retains important food safety measures, such as full funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, increased funding for meat and poultry inspection, a ban on purchasing chicken processed in China for school lunches, and limits on beef imports that may have been exposed to foot and mouth disease!
  • Forbids horse slaughter plants in the US
  • Strong funding levels to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act, for wildlife traffickingefforts, and for development of alternatives to animal testing at the National Institutes of Health.
  • Requires tougher animal welfare standards at federal agricultural research facilities and strongly criticizes the USDA for allowing farm animal abuse. 
  • Removes a rider that blocks the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from cracking down on ivory sales in the US to stop poaching of elephants. 
  • Thwarted poison riders include: repeal of public health standards for air and water; blocking implementation of the Clean Power Plan; deregulating fracking on public lands; more logging in National Forests. Unfortunately, one poison rider that did get through blocks FWS from listing the greater sage grouse as Endangered, because of Republican concern that it could impede potential fossil fuel development.  
  • After letting the Land and Water Conservation Fund expire for the first time in 50 years, it is renewed for three years in this bill.  The main source of funds to acquire and maintain parkland in the US – it allocates $900 million in royalties from oil and gas drilling on public land – Republicans see it as a way for government to take control of more land.

    Instead of being permanently re-instated at full funding, it is renewed for just three years at $450 million.

  • Doesn’t block President Obama’s pledge to the Green Climate Fund, a critical part of the Paris Climate Agreement. 
  • A 7% cut for the UN Population Fund, which conservatives call a "coercive birth limitation policy." They wanted the fund eliminated. 


The big news for wildlife is that Wolves in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin will remain protected from the zealots out to exterminate them.

If you remember, environmental groups won back that protection in court, but it would have been removed again through this spending bill. A rider – just for them – would have again stripped their protection under the Endangered Species Act.  

"We thank members of the House and Senate who stood strong for protection of wolves and recognize that a spending bill is no place to make life-and-death policy decisions for our nation’s wildlife," says Drew Caputo, Earthjustice Vice-President of Litigation for Oceans, Lands and Wildlife, the attorneys for the cases.

It was a "fierce battle," says Wayne Pacelle, Executive Director the American Humane Society, which also won in court.  Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and John Barasso (R-WY) and Reps Reid Ribble (R-WI) and John Kline (R-MN) also introduced free-standing bills to de-listing wolves, but we fought it off, potentially forestalling the slaughter of 1000 wolves in 2016.

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and 23 other Senators strongly opposed the anti-Endangered Species Act riders, as did Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and 91 House members. 

Compare with last year’s $1 trillion spending bill: Details on Cromnibus: What’s In It For Us? 

and the previous year, How Cleantech, Environment Fared In $1 Trillion Spending Bill.

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