As African diplomats flocked to Washington, D.C. this week, key legislation to bring electricity to millions of Africans has stalled because of disagreements on how to aid African development in light of global warming concerns.
The Electrify Africa Act had bipartisan support when it passed the House in May in a 297 to 117 vote. The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, was cosponsored by 72 Democrats and 45 Republicans and even had the backing of environmental and left-wing groups.
Such sweeping bipartisan support should have guaranteed it passage through the Senate, but global warming concerns could derail the entire effort.
Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons told The Washington Post that while he believed the Senate version of the Africa electrification bill would eventually reach Obama’s desk, he warned that any bill dealing with global warming issues would be a hard sell.
“Any bill that touches on energy, on power generation, has become very difficult to get passed in this Congress because of the issues around coal and climate change.” said Coons, who cosponsored the Senate version of the bill with Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
One reason the House bill got so much support from environmental groups is that it left in place rules that force the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to consider the global warming impacts of the projects it funds. The rules come from language that was attached to a 2009 Senate appropriations bill and required the OPIC to dramatically reduce the carbon dioxide emissions emitted from its projects — making it hard for OPIC to fund fossil fuel projects.
“This move essentially bars OPIC from supporting traditional energy infrastructure throughout Africa, making it much more difficult for US firms to help bring Africa on the grid quickly and cost effectively,” wrote Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe in The Washington Times.
Republican senators are concerned the restriction on OPIC funding projects with large carbon footprints is counterproductive, and the agency should be allowed to fund fossil fuel projects which would greatly expand the amount of people who could get access to electricity.
“The goal of the United States providing development assistance should always be to help impoverished economies grow to become self-sustaining,” Inhofe added. “In this case, our policies are counterproductive and are working against the goals of these nations, keeping them in the dark longer than they need be.”
Republicans could also try to attach amendments that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline or repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide limits on power plants. If these types of amendments came up, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might not allow the bill to move to a floor vote.
Reid’s office, however, did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment regarding the Senate’s Africa electrification bill.
The aim of the Africa electrification effort is to immediately bring first-time power to 50 million sub-Saharan Africans, eventually adding 20,000 megawatts of power to the continent by 2020 — enough to bring power to 600 million sub-Saharan Africans.
Currently, more than 70 percent of Africans lack access to reliable electricity, and many sub-Saharan countries face recurrent blackouts which cost their economies millions every year. Right now U.S. power aid to Africa is ad hoc, meaning the Obama administration has to take it from other international programs. Lawmakers hope to make electrifying Africa a permanent program.
President Obama has already promised to fund energy development in Africa through his Power Africa initiative, committing billions in government funding and leveraged loans to the continent through 2018. But with the OPIC forced to funnel money to green energy projects, traditional energy sources aren’t playing as big a role as some experts say they should.
“A recent analysis from the Center for Global Development shows that $10 billion invested in renewables will help lift 20 million people in Africa out of poverty,” Bjorn Lomborg, the “skeptical environmentalist” and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, testified before the Senate last week.
“But the same $10 billion spent on gas electrification will lift 90 million people out of poverty,” Lomborg noted. “Using renewables, we deliberately end up choosing to leave more than 70 million people – more than 3 out of 4 – in darkness and poverty.”
“While the African leaders are in town this week, I encourage them to raise this issue with President Obama,” Inhofe wrote. “They need to encourage him to stop playing to his activist donor base by imposing unrealistic and restrictive climate policies that stall development and opportunity for all. It will only be the voice of these African leaders who can convince the President that this message is right.”
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