GOP defeats host of Dem proposals to sweeping House package

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 1, 2015

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee today defeated a slew of Democratic proposals for revising a comprehensive energy package as bipartisan relations continued to fizzle along with the bill’s chances.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) repeatedly said he was hopeful the package would make it to President Obama’s desk despite opposition from top Democrats on the committee.

“If it somehow gets stalled, I will come back to it,” Upton said. “Let’s just try and get this done.”

But Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) shot back, saying the bill is not headed to the president’s desk. He expressed concern again with a manager’s amendment Upton unveiled yesterday to H.R. 8, the “North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015,” with a host of changes addressing exports of domestic gas, the nation’s power markets and grid reliability (Greenwire, Sept. 29).

“What the committee is doing with the substitute today is going in the direct opposite direction if you’re looking to get the president to sign the bill,” Pallone said.

Bipartisan efforts to move the bill forward appeared to wane weeks ago after the committee delayed a markup of the bill, with top Republicans outlining sticking points. Those divisions were on full display today as Pallone and other Democrats opposed proposals from their Republican colleagues.

At publication time, the panel was still debating the more than 40 amendmentsfiled to the bill, the majority of which are sponsored by Democrats.

Grid reliability

The committee today voted 27-22 to defeat language Pallone proposed to scrap a provision in the bill that would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the country’s grid operators to analyze the effects of complying with any proposed or final federal rule costing more than $1 billion and affecting generating units.

Those rules would include environmental rules such as the Clean Power Plan, which has become a target for Republicans. Under the bill, FERC and system operators would need to complete an independent review of how a rule would affect reliability, the nation’s energy mix, wholesale markets, and infrastructure like transmission and gas pipelines.

Pallone argued that U.S. EPA’s rules had not caused reliability issues and shouldn’t be the target of the energy bill.

But Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who yesterday announced plans to retire at the end of the 114th Congress, argued the language was critical to securing the country’s energy supplies. Whitfield said the section was one of four that caused bipartisan collaboration on the bill to fail.

EPA, he added, has been active in an unprecedented way because of Obama’s climate goals, and the final bill should look at reliability.

“FERC has come up here and testified on these regulations — from EPA and other agencies — and said EPA particularly doesn’t talk to them about the impact on reliability of these rules,” Whitfield said.

Capacity markets

Republicans defeated 26-22 an amendment Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts introduced to scrap language in the bill that would require FERC to study whether the country’s capacity markets are ensuring that sufficient generation is built.

Kennedy argued that language in the manager’s amendment requiring the FERC study would do much more, possibly entering new data into the filing process at FERC and requiring grid operators to make changes before such markets are fully understood. Capacity prices in New England, Kennedy said, have surged from $1 billion to $4 billion in recent years without significant new construction. He said the language requiring the study was too vague and could do more harm than good.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) supported Kennedy’s amendment and called for additional oversight hearings on capacity markets, noting that the American Public Power Association opposed the original language and agreed the FERC “study” could force grid operators to make changes based on what they find. Welch also said the language was skewed toward fuels that Republicans favor.

“The definition is clearly skewed to favor coal and nuclear resources,” he said.

House Republicans, on the other hand, argued that they had significantly watered down the language to appease Democrats and that it was critical to touch on reliability in the final energy bill.

The committee also defeated 27-22 an amendment from Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) that would have added an impact analysis to the original study the bill calls for, which he said would allow grid operators to comment on any problems with adopting the energy bill’s definition of reliability.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who voted against Tonko’s amendment, said the committee should have had more time and warned the issue is critical because nuclear reactors competing with cheap natural gas are retiring. That, in turn, could degrade his state’s ability to meet new climate goals under the Clean Power Plan. Doyle said many Democrats are sensitive to the issue of baseload generation but had little time to digest more than 100 pages of amendments added within the past 24 hours.

“If this bill has any chance of becoming law, and as it’s written right now it doesn’t, sometime between now and floor time … we need to sit down” and discuss reliability, Doyle said.

Consumer-side technologies

The committee approved 28-21 an amendment from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) that would require state utility regulators to evaluate — and make public within 90 days — whether any subsidies for consumer-side technologies such as rooftop solar or electric vehicle charging stations are providing benefits for consumers.

Pompeo argued that ratepayers deserve to know what benefits they are receiving. “Rooftop solar and energy charging stations are fine,” Pompeo said, adding that “we just need to be honest” with ratepayers about the costs.

But Pallone said the amendment would hinder the development of a technology that cuts carbon emissions.

“I think we need to encourage and support the solar industry,” he said.


The committee approved by voice vote a bipartisan amendment that Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) introduced to bolster hydropower, but only after Pallone voiced his opposition.

McMorris Rodgers and McNerney argued that federal licensing of hydro projects is taking too long even though they provide valuable, carbon-free power. McNerney said the language reflected compromise on both sides of the aisle that stands to make licensing move faster.

The amendment, a result of months of negotiations, would direct FERC to consult with agencies and tribes in developing a schedule for all federal approvals of nonfederal hydropower, and would authorize the U.S. courts of appeals to grant limited extensions of time as may be requested by agencies and tribes. The bill would also, among other things, expedite the licensing process for closed-loop pumped storage projects and establish an expedited FERC license amendment approval process for increasing hydropower capacity or efficiency.

But Pallone voiced his objection to the amendment, saying the language would give too much authority to FERC and other agencies while overlooking critical environmental protections.

“The problem is the language in this amendment has not been the subject of hearings or even circulated in the public prior to this hearing,” he said, adding that farmers’, conservationists’ and other stakeholders’ interests would be trampled. “This is a massive expansion of federal authority.”

Strategic Petroleum Reserve

The committee rejected a Pallone amendment that would have increased authorized spending levels to modernize the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and for a grant program to boost the resiliency of electric infrastructure.

Pallone said increasing the funds may help eventually sway the White House toward signing the bill.

Upton said that Pallone’s plan “was not a bad amendment” but that he was unable to support the proposed levels at the time.

“I’ll let you know the door is definitely not shut,” he told Pallone.

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.