Minerals Management Service ‘royalty in kind’ program to end

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the program, which let energy companies pay in oil or gas for drilling on federal land, had clearly not been working. Allegations of sex and drug use didn’t help.

By Jim Tankersley and Alexander C. Hart
September 17, 2009
Reporting from Washington

The Interior Department is ending a controversial program that was at the center of a sex and drug scandal in the federal Minerals Management Service, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday.

Testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee, Salazar said that he would phase out the program, which allows energy companies drilling on federal lands to pay royalties in the form of oil or gas instead of cash.

The program, known as “royalty in kind,” has been rocked by scandal, and auditors have questioned its effectiveness. The Interior Department inspector general issued a report last year describing a “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” over a five-year period at the Denver-based office of the Minerals Management Service, which deals with royalty-in-kind payments.

Allegations included cocaine use and sex with industry contacts.

This article continues at latimes.com

Senate to consider limits on carbon dioxide emissions

Senate to consider limits on carbon dioxide emissions

Lawmakers are looking to the EU's Emissions Trading System for guidance on managing permit price volatility as they consider the nation's first-ever bill limiting the emissions.

By Alexander Hart

10:32 AM PDT, September 15, 2009

Reporting from Washington

While healthcare dominates the headlines, the Senate is preparing to consider a bill that could dramatically reshape the economy by setting the nation's first-ever limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

But to assess the potential effect at home, lawmakers will be looking abroad in a hearing today to the European Union, which began a troubled carbon-trading program in 2005.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hear testimony today and Thursday about the economic effects of limiting carbon dioxide emissions. In doing so, the senators will be bombarded with information and lessons from the EU's Emissions Trading System.

This article continues at latimes.com

Climate Change Discussion Heats Up Part 1: H.R. 1862

Today, we start taking a look at Congressional approaches to combating climate change.

At the moment, most of the work is being done in the House of Representatives, where there are two major bills.

The first is sponsored by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). 

Van Hollen recently annoyed some senior Democrats by publicly saying he wanted to proceed cautiously on climate-change legislation if it appeared the Senate would not take it up. He wants to avoid forcing freshman Representatives to take a stand on the highly controversial issue unless he is confident the effort to regulate greenhouse gases will not fizzle out.

The second is sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman  (D-Calif.) and the committee's Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The bill has not been formally introduced, but a discussion draft is available on the committee's Web site. Analysis will come later this week.

After the jump, we take a look at Van Hollen's bill.

Continue reading

Senate Budget Mania

UPDATE 11:43. Senate passes budget 55-43.

The Senate had its hands full today as it continued consideration of the budget. Today was a "vote-a-rama," a quirky part of the budget process where Senators are allowed to propose amendments unfettered. 

As of early this evening, more than 200 had been submitted. Senators frequently demanded roll call votes, which led Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to comment that if roll call votes were demanded for all amendments, they would be there for more than a day just to vote on them all.

But as of this post, 82 amendments were approved after a combination of unanimous consent agreements and votes. 

Most of these amendments are political posturing. Since the budget resolution is non-binding, almost all of these amendments have no practical effect. Even if they did, the House's procedure for consideration of the budget will strip out the Senate version and replace it with the version the House passes. Any changes from the House resolution will thus occur in conference committee.

Meaningless or not, here is a quick pick of three important (or interesting) amendments passed today:

1. This one is actually a pair, S.AMDT 873 (from Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)) and S.AMDT 974, from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Kyl's amendment raised the estate tax exemption to $5 million and lowers the tax rate to 35 percent. Durbin's amendment bans any legislation that has an estate-tax rate below 45 percent. The two have almost exactly opposite effects. The amendments passed 51-48 and 56-43, respectively.

2. S. AMDT 910, proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), prohibits legislation that includes a national energy tax that would affect the middle class. According to the amendment, "The term  `National energy tax increase'' means any legislation that the Congressional Budget Office would score as leading to an increase in the costs of producing, generating or consuming energy." This amendment passed 65-33.

3. S. AMDT 803, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, requires a 60-vote threshold for legislation that would increase revenues raised by lowering the deduction for charitable giving. The Senate version of the budget contains no such provisions, but it did not impede the measure on its way to passing 94-3.

The House passed their version of the budget earlier this evening — 233-196, with all Republicans and 20 Democrats voting no. As of this post, the Senate has three amendments to consider and will then vote on final passage.