Flint wrangling continues as Senate moves on to GMOs

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Senate will spend much of the week debating legislation to establish voluntary labeling standards for foods containing genetically modified organisms, as negotiations continue on a path for reviving the stalled energy package and aid for Flint, Mich.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last night filed cloture on a bill, S. 2609, that would prevent states from requiring labels on GMOs, in favor of voluntary standards. McConnell’s procedural move would allow the bill to move forward.

Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the GMO legislation would likely take up much of the week. That would likely delay any action on the energy bill, S. 2012, and the Flint package until after next week’s recess.

While there was talk about McConnell moving to force the stalled issues back to the floor, Cornyn said yesterday “that’s less likely to happen now,” as discussions over Flint continue (E&ENews PM, March 10).

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are both objecting to an agreement that would set up votes on Flint aid and the energy bill.

Lee has expressed concerns about paying for the Flint package. And Nelson is refusing to allow a vote on an amendment by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to expand offshore drilling revenue-sharing among coastal states.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is also stalling the process, asking for a vote on a separate amendment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told reporters last night.

“It’s all about pieces falling together,” she said.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said last night that he was still holding out hope for votes on energy and Flint this week, but conceded “that window might be closing.”

Lee and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) continue to negotiate on the Flint package. Lee opposes it and is pressing to make sure lawmakers at least find an immediate offset for any money sent to Flint.

Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has been optimistic in recent weeks that an agreement was at hand, said last night that he was surprised the negotiations had stretched on so long.

“There’s still two holds that I thought would not last this long,” Inhofe told E&E Daily.

The head of the United Automobile Workers yesterday criticized the Flint package’s reliance on cuts to the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program.

“The ATVM program played an important role in fueling the resurgence of the auto industry that led to record sales last year,” UAW President Dennis Williams wrote in a letter to senators yesterday.

“Despite this success, the auto industry and its workers face significant challenges in the years ahead. Auto makers and suppliers continue to move jobs to Mexico for cars and parts sold in America,” said the letter. “ATVM funds should be utilized to create incentives for keeping work in the U.S. rather than moving it to Mexico.”

Williams’ letter also took senators to task for requiring offsets for Flint aid when accepting money for natural disasters in their own states.

“Every state in our country has experienced emergency disasters and the Congress has often taken action to declare a disaster emergency, Congress should use its authority to declare Flint a major disaster so that FEMA can respond quickly and disperse much-needed federal aid just as it has in the case of severe storms, flooding, and fires in Utah in 2012,” he wrote.

Reporter Hannah Hess contributed.