Energy bill conference talks get off to bumpy start

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2016

The House voted yesterday to launch the first major energy conference in a decade over the objections of most Democrats, highlighting the rough road that lies ahead for negotiators.

The chamber backed the revised energy package on a 241-178 vote yesterday, with eight Democrats voting in favor of the bill and six Republicans opposing it.

“This has been a multiyear, multi-Congress effort, and a lot of work has gone into making sure the bill we put forward to support the future of American energy is truly comprehensive,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said of the bill.

But Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, decried the measure as “an 800-page monstrosity” and “not a legitimate exercise in legislating.”

Instead, he praised the Senate bill (S. 2012) for its bipartisan support.

“It passed by a vote of 85-15 because it is balanced and because it contains a number of non-energy provisions that the public supports overwhelmingly, such as permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” he said in floor remarks. “On the other hand, the House energy bill was the result of a highly partisan process that the president threatened to veto.”

Pallone ticked off a number of items in the committee’s jurisdiction that he opposes in the House bill, including language to overhaul the permitting process for cross-border energy projects, hydropower permitting provisions, and the repeal of a 2007 law requiring federal buildings to curb the use of fossil fuel.

House Democrats’ opposition to the chamber’s bill doesn’t bode well for the conference.

Earlier yesterday, Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) signaled she’s not ready to support going to conference.

“I’m not going to conference on this as is without some discussion,” she told E&E Daily, citing the multiple veto threats against various House-passed bills that were folded into the bill last weekend (E&E Daily, May 25).

“We’ve got to be more productive than that so hopefully we can have some conversations about it,” she added.

Cantwell’s hesitation raises the prospect that it may be tough to find 60 votes in the Senate for going to conference, although that vote is not expected until after the Memorial Day recess.

Before final passage, the House voted 178-239 against a motion to commit the bill offered by Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) that emphasized the science underpinning climate change and the need to plan for rising sea levels.

Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) acknowledged that climate change is occurring but disputed the assertion that it’s “the number one issue facing mankind.”

“The United States does not have to take a backseat to anyone on this issue,” Whitfield said, ticking off a list of federal programs addressing the issue.

The chamber later voted 205-212 to reject a motion sponsored by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) — the ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee — that would instruct the conferees to insist on the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund included in the Senate bill.

“There is no doubt that many of the provisions in the House and Senate energy bills are controversial; it is frankly difficult to see a path toward a bipartisan conference report,” Grijalva said on the floor. “In such a contentious conference situation, a provision reauthorizing a program as widely popular as LWCF would play a constructive role in moving toward consensus.”

But Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who opposes LWCF absent significant reforms, noted the $20 billion maintenance funding backlog for public lands in opposing the motion.

“What we are trying to do in this motion to instruct is to tell us to go in there and fight for money to go to a program to get more land when we can’t manage what we have,” he said. “We can come up with a better way.”

In a reminder that LWCF is expected to be a major thorn in the conference talks, Heritage Action for America this week flagged a permanent authorization as one of that would trigger a “key vote” warning to lawmakers.