Energy on stage in 2-week sprint to recess

Source: Geof Koss and Hannah Northey, E&E reporters • Posted: Monday, July 20, 2015

Energy policy will be a central focus of the congressional agenda over the next two weeks, including a few cameo appearances in other debates as lawmakers race to finish must-pass legislation before heading home for the August recess.

The House and Senate energy committees are both looking to put some points on the board before the long break, as they try to move past years of partisanship and advance comprehensive energy bills with bipartisan backing.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is adding the final touches and working through remaining negotiations on comprehensive energy legislation and could release the highly anticipated document as soon as today.

Republican Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has said she plans to begin marking up the bill this week and report the language out of committee before Congress adjourns for the August recess. That schedule would ensure the bill is ready for floor action as soon as leadership has floor time available, said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for the senator.

“The chairman’s goal is to report out a broad energy bill before leaving for the August recess. We’ve got sufficient time to do that,” Dillon said. “Most of the hard work was done during the legislative process earlier this year, so we look forward to moving forward and marking up the final package.”

Murkowski last week signaled the possibility of holding up to four markups on the bill’s four titles addressing infrastructure, supply, accountability and efficiency. Dillon said no final decisions have been made on the number of markups yet as the committee continues to work on the bill (E&ENews PM, July 14).

However, the committee has cleared the calendar for the next couple of weeks in anticipation of marking up the measure.

In the House, Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) last month said the panel was wrestling with outstanding efficiency issues, as well as the crude export ban, as it readies a bill for the floor before the recess (E&E Daily, June 26).

A spokesman for the Energy and Commerce Committee said in an email that more information about timing and the House energy bill could be revealed as soon as today.

The full House this week will debate another of the committee’s efforts: West Virginia Republican Rep. David McKinley’s H.R. 1734, which would change U.S. EPA’s new rule for power plant combustion waste. Pushing back on the agency’s plans has for years been a key part of the GOP’s energy agenda (see related story).

Backers in the House and Senate have also spoken about the possibility of attaching the measure to broader energy legislation. In 2012, it almost was snuck into the multiyear transportation reauthorization bill.

Energy will also play a side role in the ongoing rush to extend federal transportation programs, which will run dry of funding in September unless Congress acts.

The House last week passed a bill to keep transportation money flowing through December. Meanwhile, the Senate, which is expected to vote on its funding measure this week, continues to sort through a variety of proposed offsets to pay for the measure, and the length of an extension will hinge on the levels of agreement on the proposals (see related story).

Nearly $9 billion of energy offsets are at play, including the controversial idea of tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to raise $7 billion (Greenwire, July 16).

A second proposal would raise $1.6 billion over 10 years by making Canadian oil sands subject to the U.S. crude excise tax.

The House’s five-month highway extension that passed last week was paid for in part by a formula tweak intended to “equalize” the fuel excise tax to make natural gas vehicles more competitive with diesel (E&E Daily, July 16).

Simmering tensions over energy taxes will flare tomorrow when the Senate Finance Committee marks up an extenders package that includes a two-year reprieve for the renewable production tax credit (see related story).

Conservatives will face off once again with GOP supporters of the incentive, including Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Thune (R-S.D.).

One wild card on extenders remains whether it could be folded into the transportation bill. While there’s some Senate sentiment for doing so, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has signaled plans to take up extenders in the fall.

Reporter Manuel Quiñones contributed.