Pallone to push infrastructure funds in conference

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2016

The top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said yesterday he’ll use the upcoming energy bill conference to press for funding for upgrading energy infrastructure.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the panel, said neither the House H.R. 8 nor Senate S. 2012 bills contain “any real funding” for improving infrastructure.

While Democrats worked for months with Republicans on the panel to assemble the bill, they largely opposed the final product after Pallone said the majority reneged on an agreement to only move provisions agreed to by both sides (E&E Daily, Oct. 1, 2015).

During the September markup, he said Republicans had agreed “we would need to find funding for infrastructure programs, in order to repair, replace and upgrade our nation’s aging energy infrastructure.”

Yesterday, Pallone said the two sides had been “making progress” on providing “significant funding” for strengthening the electric grid and pipelines.

“So my goal is to try to get some funding for infrastructure, otherwise the other parts of the bill are not as significant,” he said.

The funding issue was but one of the problems Democrats had with the bill, which passed the House in December with the support of just nine members of the minority, after Republicans added language authorizing crude oil exports and a bipartisan proposal that overhauled the permitting process for infrastructure projects that cross the U.S. border with Canada and Mexico (Greenwire, Dec. 3, 2015).

However, a repeal of the crude oil exports ban was signed into law in the year-end omnibus-tax deal, and the international permitting bill is not included in the Senate bill passed yesterday.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the Energy and Power Subcommittee that wrote the bill, said yesterday he noted similarities between the House and Senate versions.

“A lot of our provisions are in there, but they have a lot of additional things, too,” he told reporters, saying he’s looking forward to the conference. “As you know, conferences are rare specimens today.”

Whitfield emphasized that the House bill intends to broadly address issues that have arisen in the rapidly changing landscape that has unfolded since the last comprehensive bill was signed into law in 2007.

“Our bill is pretty modest, and we hope that working with the Senate we can have something that improves the well-being of the entire country with the energy policy,” he said.

Echoing comments by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Whitfield said time is of the essence in reconciling the competing bills. He expects the House to name conferees very quickly.

“We need to get going on this because we all know the length of time it takes to do anything,” he said. “We don’t want to run out of time.”