Panels take up infrastructure, ‘Build Back Better’

Source: By Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, March 8, 2021

Senators will offer a first look this week at how infrastructure legislation could tackle climate change in the power sector.

The Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday will meet to consider climate issues in electricity, part of a series of hearings for the panel centered on President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan.

Witnesses include Frank Rusco, director of natural resources and environment-energy issues at the Government Accountability Office, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), who has launched a broad program to reduce emissions and has led efforts among the nation’s mayors to address climate change.

Xcel Energy Inc. CEO Ben Fowke will also testify, alongside witnesses from the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and West Virginia University’s Energy Institute.

The hearing comes with Biden expected to accelerate his push for an infrastructure bill, as Congress wraps up consideration of its $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief legislation.

The president met with a bipartisan group of House lawmakers on the issue last week, including Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who said afterward that Biden “wants to move as quickly as possible” (E&E Daily, March 5).

On the Senate side, EPW Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) has said he will move a surface transportation bill out of committee by the end of May, with an emphasis on clean transportation and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. He held the opening hearing on the measure last month.

But the scope of the potential infrastructure legislation — and whether Democrats will look to pass it via budget reconciliation — remains unclear.

House Democrats passed a $1.5 trillion bill last year that included a transportation reauthorization, as well as a host of measures to build out and clean the power grid and invest in broadband and health care.

The legislation stalled in the GOP Senate, but some lawmakers and advocates have pointed to it as a model for what Democrats could do this year.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has also suggested Congress take up two bills, a bipartisan authorization measure and another piece of legislation with pay-fors and tax policies passed through reconciliation, which allows certain bills to bypass the Senate filibuster.

Republicans, meanwhile, have pushed back on the idea of an infrastructure bill loaded with climate policy and other issues.

And while lawmakers have variously suggested gas tax hikes, carbon taxes and a vehicle-miles-traveled fee to pay for infrastructure, there is little consensus on pay-fors.

Carper has thus far focused heavily on transportation issues, but the hearing this week could shed light on his plans to tackle the power sector.

“There’s a chance to revisit, either through executive order or maybe through legislation, emissions from stationary sources,” Carper said in a recent interview.

“Having said that, market forces are really taking a hold, and I understand the utility industry because of market forces has already pretty much met the expectations of the Clean Power Plan.”

Several other committees across Capitol Hill will dive into climate change this week, including a House Natural Resources Committee hearing focused on “Building Back Better.”

The Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee will hear from several experts on how infrastructure investments can protect people and ecosystems from climate change.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will also look at the science of climate impacts, with testimony from several climate scientists.

On the Senate side, the Indian Affairs Committee will hold a roundtable to look at how climate change affects Native communities, a priority for new Chairman Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).