Trump’s victory may deal a blow to reform bill talks

Source: Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 14, 2016

Congressional aides say it’s too early to determine whether President-elect Donald Trump’s victory will scuttle conference committee negotiations to craft the first broad energy reform legislation in years.

The day after Trump’s win, a spokeswoman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowsaki (R-Alaska) said she was “evaluating next steps” for the effort. “She intends to do that in partnership with Alaskans and colleagues in Congress that she’s worked with throughout this process,” Nicole Daigle said in an email.

Similarly, an aide for House Energy and Commerce Republicans said Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) was considering “next steps” for energy bill discussions following Trump’s victory.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not make mention of the energy bill when discussing the lame-duck agenda last week with reporters, citing only the appropriations process and a medical innovation bill as his priorities (E&ENews PM, Nov. 9)

While there may be reluctance on the part of congressional Republicans to make pronouncements on the lame-duck agenda without consulting their leaders and colleagues, observers following the energy conference process struck a decidedly pessimistic tone.

“Before the election, that wasn’t a lot of hunger on the part of anyone to get this bill done,” said Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director, during a post-election event sponsored by CQ Roll Call last week. Trump’s win has “probably taken the wind out of any action in the lame duck,” she said.

Speaking at the same event, ClearView Energy Partners LLC Managing Director Kevin Book said Trump’s win may have shifted the calculation on the part of House Republicans, who were already facing pressure to acquiesce to the Senate on multiple issues.

“We think they’re going to try to do an energy bill in the next Congress that is closer to what the House Republicans wanted, a much more aggressive energy bill,” he said.

For instance, provisions in both the House and Senate bills that would impose Energy Department deadlines for issuing final decisions on natural gas exports may have lost some of their importance, Book noted, given that a Trump administration would have the authority to revise the process governing exports.

“There’s no reason to fight for a bill that the House leaders didn’t like that much in the first place,” he said. Book put the odds of a lame-duck energy deal at 30 percent. Before the election, ClearView gave a deal a 60 percent chance.

“There’s still room for folks who want to push the bill on the premise that there’s going to be so much fighting that it might be nice to anchor one victory in the last few weeks of the year,” Book said.

Efficiency provisions

Energy efficiency advocates are hoping that sentiment carries the lame-duck session. “You get into a whole new ball of wax in the new Congress of different dynamics and politics,” said Alliance to Save Energy spokesman Ben Evans on Thursday.

“And if you have something that has good bipartisan support, and certainly there are portions of this bill that have huge bipartisan support, then why not get it done and take it off the table so you can work on the new challenge in the new Congress?” Evans said.

The Alliance to Save Energy said Congress should seize the opportunity to finally pass the long-delayed efficiency legislation authored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), large parts of which are in the Senate energy reform package, S. 2012. The House bill is H.R. 8.

“Every year we wait to pass it builds unnecessary pollution and inefficiency into our economy,” the group said. “And punting it to next year means, by definition, additional and unnecessary delays as the new Congress organizes, establishes priorities and begins the work of developing working relationships with a new administration.”

The alliance added: “There is every good reason to get the energy efficiency provisions in place now and no good reason — political or other — to delay further. This is the kind of practical, common sense work that Americans expect from Congress, and we believe a lot of good will and credibility with the public will be built with the passage of these common sense and money-delivering energy efficiency provisions.”

Still, efficiency provisions are among the sticking points between the two chambers’ bills (E&ENews PM, Oct. 26). They, along with thorny natural resource provisions, may provide further incentive for House Republicans to punt.

“Anything they try to do before January has to go through Obama,” said one House Democratic aide following the conference process. “I don’t know why the Republicans would put themselves through that.”

Tax credits

Also unclear is the fate of expiring or already-lapsed tax allowances, including several key renewable energy credits. Champions for them have peppered Congress with letters in recent weeks pleading for action.

Democrats, environmentalists and affected sectors are angling to see a fix made to the investment tax credit, which lawmakers extended last year for five years for solar.

But because of what Democrats say was an error, last year’s bipartisan deal omitted fuel cells, geothermal and other sources that otherwise would have qualified for the break.

McConnell has signaled interest in trying to fix the omission, but conservative groups are beating the drum against a tweak and other tax extensions. Freedom Partners last week called for GOP leaders to pass a “clean spending bill” and nothing else in the lame duck.

“Lawmakers should not allow Minority Leader Harry Reid [D-Nev.] and President Obama to pass pork-barrel projects and special interest handouts on their way out the door,” Andy Koenig, Freedom Partners’ policy vice president, said in a statement.

Nonetheless, lobbyists last week said the uphill fight to see a host of credits extended in the next Congress may prompt lawmakers to clear the decks of outstanding extenders in the coming weeks (E&E Daily, Nov. 10).

“The window is now,” said the Sierra Club’s Pierce.