Congress set to pass tax, spending, land bills in session’s final week 

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, December 8, 2014

A grueling year on Capitol Hill marked by partisan squabbling, procedural gridlock and political upheaval comes to an end this week as Congress appears on track to wrap up required work on tax, spending and defense legislation — all of which has substantial implications for energy companies, environmental advocates and public land managers.

The main item of business is funding the government for the remainder of this fiscal year. A continuing resolution (CR) expires Thursday, and lawmakers are nearing an agreement on legislation that would include an omnibus spending bill to fund most agencies through the end of the fiscal year, including U.S. EPA and the Departments of Energy and Interior, while offering a short-term CR for immigration-enforcement agencies to protest President Obama’s recent executive order.

Appropriations negotiators and congressional leaders were also grappling last week with an array of environmental riders embedded in House spending bills, including limits to EPA’s “waters of the United States” rule, but it remains to be seen whether any will make it into the final version (Greenwire, Dec. 4).

The so-called CRomnibus is expected to be released as soon as today.

This week is also expected to bring Senate passage of two other pieces of year-end legislation that the House approved last week. One is a “tax extenders” bill that would renew through the end of this year more than 50 expired tax breaks, including incentives for renewable energy, biofuels and efficiency upgrades.

Clean energy advocates last week said the bill was insufficient because it would only renew incentives like the production tax credit (PTC) for a few weeks, not nearly enough time to do the work necessary to start a new wind farm that could claim the credit.

The Senate is also expected to take up the annual defense authorization bill, which includes a massive package of public lands bills that create new wilderness areas and pave the way for new mining operations, among other effects. Conservatives such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have objected to using the must-pass defense bill as a vehicle for the lands package, but the overall bill appears to have sufficient support to pass by the end of this week (see related story).

This week will also be the last one in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) controls the upper chamber before handing the title off to his Republican counterpart, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, in January, when nine new GOP senators will be sworn in.

The House and Senate are scheduled to adjourn Thursday.