Battle brewing over amendments to House bill

Source: Daniel Bush, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, July 24, 2015

Members of a House energy panel are headed for a partisan showdown over amendments to a sweeping energy package, with Republicans and Democrats staking out opposite ground on a range of divisive issues from crude oil exports to renewable energy.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) predicted that the committee’s members would have “a lot of good, constructive comments” on the bill when lawmakers return from their summer recess in September.

Upton said the bill, which passed out of the Energy and Power Subcommittee earlier this week, would receive a full committee markup after the break.

“We’re working together, and we’re off to a good start,” Upton said in an interview.

But as lawmakers on the committee get set to head home to their districts, many are already preparing a slew of amendments that will test the panel’s willingness to compromise.

On the right, Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) said GOP members are prepared to introduce a provision that would lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports. The proposal is popular with American oil producers but has been roundly criticized by environmental groups and many Democrats, who say it would encourage more fossil fuel production.

“Crude oil exports will be one” of the amendments offered by Republicans, said Flores, who is also backing a stand-alone measure to lift the ban.

The Senate is also expected to address the export ban as part of a debate over its energy package, which is scheduled for a round of markups next week. But it remains unclear if the language will be included in the final bill or if there’s enough votes in the upper chamber to pass the House’s stand-alone measure.

The House export measure is moving along faster than the broader energy package and could receive a floor vote as early as September, Flores said.

“If ours passes and the Senate hasn’t acted on it, then for sure we’ll” include it in the energy package, Flores said.

The Texas Republican also said GOP members would introduce an amendment aimed at blocking new ozone pollution regulations U.S. EPA proposed last November.

Meanwhile, House Democrats on the energy panel say they’ll draw up provisions to promote clean energy development, setting up a stark contrast with Republicans as both sides negotiate the first big energy reform package in a decade.

“I want to find ways to try to empower the clean energy sector and energy-efficient small businesses,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said. Castor said she would be meeting with renewable energy developers in her Tampa-based district to get input on the bill over the August recess.

Other Democrats, like Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), appear to be caught in the middle. Green said he plans to propose language that would cut regulations for cross-border oil and gas pipelines and transmission lines.

Green also said he would propose language amending a section of the 2005 energy law that requires federal buildings to transition to using renewable energy.

“I’d like to reform the section to [reflect] what the market is today,” Green said. “We all thought we were going to be able to turn our lights on with renewables, but that’s not the case.”

It’s still unclear how many amendments will make their way into the final bill. At the markup earlier this week, Upton and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Democrat, indicated that they want a relatively clean bill that could draw bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.

Several members of the panel said they expected the amendments would be kept to a minimum. But Upton told E&E Daily that he plans to give lawmakers a chance to air their differences while pushing for bipartisan policy riders.

“I’m never in a position to deny germane amendments. That’s not my style,” Upton said. “But if they’re going to be adopted, they’re going to be bipartisan.”