Conferees outline priorities in first meeting

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, September 9, 2016

House and Senate energy reform conferees signaled a willingness to bridge the many differences between their respective bills today. At the same time, they outlined a laundry list of competing priorities for a final agreement.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is leading the first formal energy conference since 2005, pledged to use the same “open and bipartisan manner” that she and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) used to assemble and pass the upper chamber’s bill, S. 2012, with broad bipartisan backing in April.

Murkowski urged the conference to look at “the big picture.”

She said, “This is our chance to modernize our energy policy. It is our opportunity to update policies that have not been updated in nine years. It is an opportunity to help the people we serve.”

Cantwell similarly urged a collaborative effort. “We don’t need to be pushing forward ideas that are going to be threatened by a veto.”

Other principal conferees, during hours of opening statements this morning, pointed to some of the controversies the panel must work to resolve.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said a final bill must recognize “the need for responsible development of needed infrastructure and contain permit reforms that will bring accountability” to state and federal regulators when permitting new and modified projects.

Even though environmentalists and many Democrats have taken issues with permitting reforms included in the House’s H.R. 8, House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) called them essential.

“Let’s face it: There’s a place where you produce energy and there’s a place where people live. It’s not the same area,” he told conferees. “We need to be able to move the resource from one place to another.”

Bishop did not mention another flashpoint in the debate: the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund contained in the Senate bill, which he opposes.

However, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said permanent reauthorization would limit congressional oversight of the program. While noting that he supports LWCF, “we just disagree that it should be permanently authorized.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member on Natural Resources, used his own statement to highlight the 209 co-sponsors of his own bill, H.R. 1814, to permanently reauthorize LWCF.

Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who has been decidedly pessimistic on the process used to assemble the House energy bill, drew his own lines in the sand for the final product.

“It is important that any final conference report include three essential components: infrastructure investment and modernization; direct benefits for consumers, including programs that empower them to manage their energy consumption and costs; and it must be consistent with our nation’s climate goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he told conferees.

“Any final conference must also include adequate funding for these three areas,” Pallone added.

After the meeting, Murkowski told reporters that it allowed her to gauge different lawmakers’ priorities. “For us to be able to hear the comments from our House colleagues was very important,” she said.

Murkowski said it was unclear when the conference may meet again but noted rumors that the Senate may scrap its scheduled workweek in early October.

“I’m not going to assume that I know when we’re going to be leaving the Senate,” she told reporters. “I’m going to take advantage of every single day that we have here and push our staff, push members to be engaged and working on a product.”