House Action: Week of March 16

March 24, 2015

Last week I was in Washington and stayed busy with action in my committees and on the House floor. I attended multiple Energy and Commerce Committee hearings as well as a last-minute Veterans’ Affairs committee meeting. Also, three significant bills were brought up for votes on the House floor.


Two of the three bills on the House floor were science-related: H.R. 1029, “The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act,” and H.R. 1030, “Secret Science Reform Act.”  The other vote was on S.J.Res 8, which related to rules for elections by organized labor. H.R. 1029 basically skews the selection process for the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to select more people with industry ties and fewer scientists. This will make the SAB more industry friendly and less able to protect public health and safety. I opposed this bill, which passed the House. H.R. 1030 prohibits the use of legally protected data, such as data that has been designated as confidential business information, in developing standards, establishing risk assessments, or otherwise using such data to protect the public. For obvious reasons, I opposed this bill. Like H.R. 1029, this bill passed the House. I voted against S.J.Res 8, which would prevent a National Labor Relations Board rule that modernizes labor elections and makes them more fair and efficient from going into effect.


Committee work was very interesting this past week. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee called a meeting on short notice Monday night to question VA officials on their poor responsiveness to the Committees’ requests for oversight information. The hearing lasted late into the night, but some progress was made that will help the committee better obtain requested information from the VA going forward.


The Energy and Power Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee met to discuss the EPA’s new proposed clean power rule, which would reduce CO2 emissions. The Republicans strongly oppose this proposed rule because they feel it is part of the so-called “war on coal” and will hurt the electric power industry. I had the honor of sitting as the ranking Democratic member and emphasized that the proposed rule focuses on power plant efficiency, renewable and nuclear energy, using natural gas for most new plants, and customer-side efficiencies. It will reduce carbon emissions in this country to 20% below 2005 levels by 2030. I also urged my Republican colleagues who represent regions that depend heavily on coal to embrace carbon capture and sequestration now. The Subcommittee on Environment and Economy had a hearing on a bill called the “Improve Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015.” The proposed bill has some merit, but goes too far in relaxing standards and enforcement on environmental oversight, which would put the public safety and risk. I was glad to listen to the experts, ask questions, and think about this bill before it moves on in the Energy and Commerce Committee.


The Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee held a hearing on a draft privacy bill introduced by subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess (R-TX), along with Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Peter Welch (D-VT). The bill is called the “Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015.” Again, there was a considerable amount of back and forth, but some very good suggestions from industry and consumer protection advocates came out on how to improve the proposed bill. Hopefully, we can achieve a bipartisan solution because data privacy is incredibly important.


The Subcommittee on Technology and Communications held a hearing that mostly centered around the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed rule on Net Neutrality. I support the tenets of Net Neutrality: no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization, and a focus on transparency. However, the big disagreement is over whether some aspects of the internet should be regulated by Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. The Republicans believe it will be too heavy-handed and possibly stifle innovation. Others believe it will be needed to enforce FCC’s proposal and can be done in an appropriate way that actually fosters innovation. Ultimately, I will work to make the internet equally available to all while still providing incentive for investment in internet infrastructure and innovation.