This vote was on an amendment by John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have deleted $17.5 million allocated to the High Energy Cost Grant Program. The amendment was offered to the bill that provides funding for agriculture programs in fiscal 2010.
McCain said his amendment would strike funding for a subsidy designed to pay for energy generation systems in rural areas. McCain said the administration itself has proposed eliminating it because it is duplicative of existing programs, such as the Agriculure Department’s Rural Utilities Service Loan and Grant Program.
“In other words, this amendment eliminates a duplicative, unnecessary program, according to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and at the President’s request, he has sent over one of the programs they want eliminated. So somehow it ends up back in the appropriations bill,” McCain said.
The amendment’s sole public opponent was Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, whose state is overwhelmingly rural, and whose energy costs she said are 275 percent higher than the national average.
Murkowski disputed McCain’s suggestion that the program is duplicative of another existing program. She said the Agriculture Department program McCain referenced can’t make loans to school districts or to Indian reservations, and additionally can only make loans for electricity programs, not for renewable energy projects that tie into the electrical grid.
“This is exceptionally important, the fact that the programs currently can only make those loans to electricity programs and not the renewable energy projects,” Murkowski said. “This program has been one of the smartest things Congress has done since the passage of the rural electrification programs back in the 1930s. It has provided assistance to run modern power lines on Indian reservations, helped to propel economic activity where it is needed most in this country. It has provided aid to towns off the interstate transmission grid and a number of towns in the West that are isolated and not so connected to that grid, thus more subject to the blackouts and brownouts. If funding sources continue to be eliminated or reduced, the Nation’s efforts to address the high cost of energy by increasing energy efficiencies and renewable resource development are going to be severely hindered. This is at a time when we can least afford to do this.”
By a vote of 41-55, the amendment was rejected. Of Republicans present, 27 voted for the amendment and 13 voted against it. Of Democrats present, 14 voted for the amendment and 41 voted against it (including the most progressive members). The end result is that the measure went forward without language that would have deleted money for the High Energy Cost Grant Program.