Kennedy, the last surviving brother in a unique American political dynasty and one of the most influential senators in history, died late Tuesday night at his summer home on Cape Cod after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. He was 77.
He was a great champion of progressive causes, and his death is a great loss, particularly for health care reform. You can read read his staggering list of accomplishments here.
His legacy on “Protecting the Environment and Promoting Energy Efficiency” is below. How many Senators would even mention “energy efficiency” among their achievements?
Holding Oil Companies Accountable
During consideration of a 1975 tax cut proposal, Kennedy introduced a provision targeting the oil depletion allowance, which since 1926 had enabled oil producers to exclude 22 percent of their revenues from any taxes. Kennedy’s initiative passed overwhelmingly, trimming the allowance for independent producers and ending it for the major oil companies.
Raising Fuel Economy Standards
Senator Kennedy has a long and distinguished record supporting clean renewable sources of energy and reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. More than 30 years ago he cosponsored the first law to establish fuel economy standards. And in 2007, he supported a law which increased fuel economy standards, which is essential to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Promoting Energy Research and Development
In 2007, Senator Kennedy’s “America COMPETES Act” was passed by both chambers of Congress and sent to the White House to become law. That bill established an Advanced Research Projects Authority at the Department of Energy to be the focal point of federal efforts to support breakthrough research on new clean energy technologies.
In 2009, Senator Kennedy urged that funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act be used to build a wind blade technology testing facility in Massachusetts, and in May 2009, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that $25 million of such funds will be available for the project at the Autoport in Charlestown.
Improving Energy Efficiency
Senator Kennedy was a strong proponent of increasing energy efficiency, which is an essential part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He was a long time supporter of programs like the weatherization assistance program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program that helps those most in need reduce their energy bills by improving home energy efficiency.
Here are more of his efforts to maintain high environmental standards:
Kennedy Fought to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Address Global Warming. During consideration of the FY 2002 Budget Resolution, Senator Kennedy cosponsored an amendment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address concerns related to global climate change. The amendment sought to promote voluntary programs for reducing emissions in the near term. In addition, Senator Kennedy’s amendment included provisions designed to assist developing countries address the danger of global warming – specifically increased funding to help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, the amendment provided additional funding for programs that assist U.S. businesses willing to export clean energy technologies to developing nations.
Kennedy Criticized the Administration’s Proposed Changes to the Clean Air Act. Senator Kennedy was a vocal critic of the Bush Administration’s efforts to essentially repeal the “New Source Review” section of the Clean Air Act. The New Source Review provision requires industrial plants to install modern pollution control mechanisms when expanding or upgrading their old facilities. This standard has helped reduce smog- and soot-forming pollution by hundreds of thousands of tons each year. President Bush’s proposal eliminated this requirement, significantly increasing the probability of higher pollution levels and endangering the lives of millions of children, mothers, and elderly persons. Senator Kennedy strongly supported an amendment that would have delayed implementation of the new rule until a study was completed to determine its effect on air pollution and public health. The amendment failed on a party-line vote.
Kennedy Fought for Additional Personnel to Enforce Environmental Regulations. After a 2003 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report detailed the Agency’s substandard efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act, Senator Kennedy cosponsored an amendment to the VA-HUD Appropriations Act to reverse proposed cuts in the EPA enforcement staff. The amendment provided additional funding to maintain personnel levels and prevent layoffs to enforcement officers. The failure of the EPA to address a significant number of environmental violations exposed the negligence of cutting enforcement personnel. Senator Kennedy’s amendment maintained the previous year’s officer level.
Kennedy Opposed the Permanent Nuclear Waste Storage Facility at Yucca Mountain. Senator Kennedy is a strong opponent of the plan to create a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The potential for groundwater contamination from the site is yet to be determined, and the transfer of nuclear materials to Nevada from almost every state in the nation raises serious safety concerns. In addition, in March 2005, the Department of Energy admitted that falsified documents were used to ensure the credibility and safety of operations at Yucca Mountain. Until questions are resolved that will guarantee the health of both the public and the environment, it is irresponsible to approve a permanent storage site for nuclear waste.
And his efforts to “Supporting the Improving Mass Transit and Reducing Pollution and Congestion“:
Kennedy Cosponsored Legislation to Increase Funding for AmtrakSenator Kennedy cosponsored legislation to increase funding for passenger rail service in the United States. Amtrak is a vital component to the country’s transportation infrastructure, especially in the Northeast. Despite its importance, the Administration over the last three years has severely underfunded the passenger rail system, forcing it to delay critical capital investments. In his budget for FY 2006, President Bush proposed to eliminate all funding for Amtrak, hoping to force it into bankruptcy and shift the bill for passenger rail to state governments. Senator Kennedy’s bipartisan amendment would have restored the subsidy for Amtrak, ensuring service for the next fiscal year. Kennedy sponsored a similar amendment in 2003, which allowed Amtrak to maintain critical services during 2004.
Kennedy Fought for Increased Mass Transit Benefits for Commuters During consideration of the highway bill, Senator Kennedy was a key cosponsor of an amendment that increased the monthly amount of the employer-based federal mass transit tax benefit from $105 to $200. This puts the monthly benefit on par with the current federal parking benefit. The amendment was modeled after the Commuter Benefits Equity Act, of which Senator Kennedy is a cosponsor, and could help up to 194,000 T commuters in and around Boston. Encouraging the use of mass transit will help reduce traffic congestion and lower the cost of commuting, especially important at a time of escalating energy prices. Kennedy’s amendment was included in the highway conference report, which was signed into law by the President.
Kennedy Secured Record Transportation Funding in Highway Bill In 2005, Senator Kennedy successfully secured record transportation funding in the Transportation Equity Act, also known as the highway bill. Massachusetts will receive $3.658 billion for highways for the next six years – a $568 million increase over the last highway measure signed into law. In addition, the bill includes a substantial increase in funding for mass transit priorities in the state. The funds contained in the highway bill are critical to improving infrastructure in Massachusetts and reducing traffic congestion for the state’s commuters.
And his efforts to protect our oceans and land:
Kennedy Supported Additional Funding to Protect Water Resources. In 1972, the Federal Water Pollution Act was enacted to provide funding to states for water pollution prevention and clean-up. Despite substantial progress in protecting and improving water quality in the United States, serious pollution problems remain. A 2002 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study disclosed a $535 billion gap between current spending and projected water funding needs over the next 20 years. Payments from the Federal Water Pollution Control State Revolving Fund are essential to protecting vital water resources, wildlife and the public health in the U.S. To ensure adequate funding for the account, Senator Kennedy introduced an amendment to the FY 2006 Budget Resolution that expressed support for increasing water pollution payments to states.
Kennedy Fought to Cleanup Brownfields Sites and Revitalize Local Communities. In 2001, Senator Kennedy was a lead sponsor of the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act, which authorized funds for assessment and cleanup of “brownfields” sites. Brownfields are former industrial sites that at one time were determined unsuitable for development because of environmental contamination. Today however, these sites are being cleaned up and redeveloped, enhancing the environment, creating jobs and expanding economic development in communities across the country. Massachusetts alone has identified over 7,000 such sites in the state. With over 500,000 brownfields sites in the United States, Senator Kennedy’s legislation provided important grants and revolving loans to states and local governments to inventory, assess, and cleanup contaminated sites. Unfortunately, despite its ability to bring economic vitality to communities throughout the country, the Administration’s budget for FY 2006 incorporated large cuts in the program.
- Massachusetts Received Millions of Dollars to Clean Up Brownfields Sites. The year following passage of Senator Kennedy’s Brownfields revitalization bill, eleven communities in Massachusetts were selected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to receive federal grants for their Brownfield Assessment Demonstration Pilot programs. The total of more than $3.4 million helped these communities establish new methods of assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment.
Kennedy Fought to Prevent Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) represents one of the last remaining protected wilderness areas in the country, and is home to a variety of unique wildlife. The FY 2004 Budget Resolution contained language allowing energy drilling in ANWR, opening the environmentally protected area to development. Senator Kennedy introduced an amendment to eliminate the language and prevent the consideration of drilling in the refuge. Energy Department forecasts predict that, if retrieved all at once, the refuge would produce at most six months worth of American oil, and would not start flowing until 2013. This is a fruitless effort that would convert this spectacular ecosystem into nothing more than an oilfield, and damage the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for future generations.
- Kennedy Supported an Amendment to Prevent Drilling in ANWR During consideration of the FY 2006 Budget Resolution, Senator Kennedy strongly supported an amendment to remove language that opened the door for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In recent years, the Senate has voted down attempts to allow drilling in ANWR, which would destroy one of the last remaining wilderness areas in the country. Drilling would do little to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and would have almost no impact on energy prices. Although the amendment was defeated, Kennedy will continue the fight to ensure this environmentally sensitive area remains free from oil drilling.
- Kennedy Helped Defeat Drilling in ANWR Senator Kennedy and his colleagues were successful in defeating a provision from the Defense Department Appropriations bill that would have allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Republican leaders attempted to include the special interest provision in the Defense bill, but it was removed after being determined unrelated to the underlying measure.
Kennedy Supported the Goals of National Oceans Week. Oceans contribute vitally to the nation’s economy, the quality of the environment, and the health of the population. Providing oxygen to breath, food to eat, and a wealth of natural resources, these waters play a critical role in sustaining life on earth. As a result, the United States has a responsibility to promote and practice stewardship of the ocean. In 2003, Senator Kennedy cosponsored a resolution to designate the week of June 9, 2003, as National Oceans Week, and urged the country to exercise programs to advance ocean literacy and education.
Kennedy Worked to Expand Ocean Research and Apply it to Human Health In 2004, Senator Kennedy cosponsored legislation to establish a federal research program examining ocean resources and their application to human health. The bill would have created the Oceans and Human Health Program at the Department of Commerce, and directed the Department to establish an outreach effort with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This coordination would help merge oceanographers and biomedical researchers to collaborate on marine research and its impact on human health. Senator Kennedy’s legislation passed in the Senate, but stalled in the House of Representatives.
Kennedy Cosponsored Legislation to Protect Coastal Lands and Wetlands In 2003, Senator Kennedy introduced legislation to help preserve America’s coasts and wetlands, and protect these unspoiled areas from development. The bipartisan bill would have provided grant funding to states and non-governmental organizations for land conservation at the state and local level. Funding would have been targeted to protect important coastal and wetland areas with significant conservation, recreation, and ecological value. The program would have supported coordination between private organizations and federal, state, and local governments for land acquisition and protection. The Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act failed to reach the floor for consideration.
And finally, you can see his major votes in recent years on energy, oil, and the environment here.
They say no one is indispensable, but some are irreplaceable. Ted Kennedy was both.
This piece originally appeared in Climate Progress.