Bill would close Iranian sanctions loophole

WASHINGTON – An amendment to the fiscal 2014 Budget Resolution to strengthen sanctions against Iran by preventing the expansion of its natural gas exports that helps fund the development of their nuclear weapons program was proposed by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

The amendment encourages additional sanctions to be enacted during the 113th Congress.

“Now is the time for Congress to act and close a sanctions loophole that Iran has exploited in an attempt to sell natural gas to neighboring countries,” Senator Manchin said. “Selling natural gas to bordering nations could serve as an economic lifeline for Iran, which ultimately will help our enemy continue to build their dangerous nuclear weapons program.I strongly urge Congress to close this loophole now before Iran has the opportunity to strengthen its financial clout.”

Manchin, Kirk and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and and James Inhofe, R-Okla., were the original sponsors of the bill.

“We need to close the natural gas loophole in our Iran sanctions policy and I applaud Sen. Manchin for taking a leadership role on this important issue,” Kirk said. “Countries like Turkey and Pakistan need to decide whether they stand with the United States and Europe against Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons or whether they want to subsidize Iran’s illicit activities.”

Iran has the second largest natural gas reserves in the world after Russia, but more than 85 percent of its gas fields have not been developed. Between July 2011 and June 2012, Iran’s average monthly revenues from the export of natural gas were $320 million, Manchin said. While this is about 4 percent of Iran’s daily energy exports, its natural gas sector has significant room for growth, he said.

Manchin also introduced an amendment to the budget resolution to prevent Congress from funding the EPA’s proposed New Source Performance Standard regulations. The new standards sets emissions for new coal plants at the same level for gas-fired plants.

“EPA’s choice to hold coal and gas to the same emissions standards is unprecedented under the Clean Air Act, and is yet another example of EPA overreach,” Manchin said. “That is why I have introduced an amendment to make sure we protect our coal-fired power plants. Not only would this rule have a devastating effect on our coal production, this rule would endanger the reliability and sustainability of our electricity supply.

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In other news, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., spoke to more than 200 engineers at the American Society of Civil Engineers annual legislative fly-in and breakfast in Alexandria, Va.

Members with an engineering background bring a unique perspective to Congress and understand what impact policies have on people and businesses in the real world, McKinley said. Climate change, energy, infrastructure and cyber security are just four examples of areas where engineers could provide fresh perspective, he said.

“More engineers should run for office and become involved in the political process,” said Rep. McKinley. “Many times those of us in this field need to get out of our comfort zones and bring more logic and a common sense perspective to government.”

The group also named McKinley a fellow, an honor held by fewer than 5 percent of ASCE members. McKinley in October received the Civil Government Engineer of the Year award from the ASCE.

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Sen.Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has co-sponsored two bills for school security and improved mental health programs.

The School Safety Enhancement Act reauthorizes the Community Oriented Policing Services Secure Our Schools grant program, which helps state and local governments partner with public schools to improve school safety with grants for security systems and hotlines. The program was created by the 1994 Crime Act,.

The Mental Health in Schools Act directs the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to create a $200 million grant program for community-based organizations and schools to partner in providing training, awareness, and referrals for mental health services in schools.

“West Virginians treasure our sense of community-that we can leave the back door unlocked and send our kids and grandkids outside to play without a worry. But the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School shook all of us, and made us ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to protect our kids,” said Rockefeller. “Our children should never feel unsafe when they get on the school bus in the morning or enter a classroom. And at the same time, we simply must provide mental health support to young people who need it.”

Rockefeller in January eintroduced a bill to instruct the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of violent content on children’s behavior and joined an effort to fund additional mental health services in underserved communities. He met with parents, teachers, mental health experts, national advocacy groups and representatives from the video game industry to discuss the impact of media violence on young people on Monday in Martinsburg.

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Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., sponsored a re-drafted version of a bill requiring mine operators to maintain records of rock dust purchases to verify they’re addressing issues with explosive coal dust. A combination of coal dust and methane caused the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 in in West Virginia.

The bill also requires the Mine Safety and Health Administration to develop a plan to make sure there is sufficient number of trained personnel, makes penalties for warning about inspections stiffer and allow relatives to choose someone to monitor and participate in accident investigations. Rahall also supports an independent investigation panel with subpoena power on any accident involving three or more deaths.