July 31, 2015

Energy Legislation Gains Momentum: Bills Pass House and Senate Committees

After much anticipation, both the House and the Senate Committees passed their long awaited energy bills. Much is covered in the two packages, and many amendments have been tabled for when the bills hit the floor in the fall. Republicans and Democrats alike withheld their amendments for the sake of expediency and bipartisanship to keep these measures moving forward through the committee process.

Proposed Energy Legislation in the House and Senate

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power introduced and passed legislation “to modernize energy infrastructure, build a 21st Century energy and manufacturing workforce, bolster America’s energy security and diplomacy, and promote energy efficiency and government accountability, and for other purposes.” The nearly 100-page bipartisan proposal was the first step to clearing an energy bill in the House of Representatives.

This week saw the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee pass their vision for America’s energy future with a bill simply called the “Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015.” This bill is three and a half times longer than the House bill, and covers many of the same sweeping topics as its counterpart across campus. To move the measure through committee, the controversial amendments have been shelved, but the bill does include efficiency legislation, DOE loan guarantee reform, grid modernization and expediting the permitting process for hydropower. Where it stands out most from the House bill is its protection of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve from being used as a checking account for other spending, and its approval of the export of crude oil. Notably, the export of crude oil amendment passed with the support of all Republicans over the opposition of all Democrats.

While the bills get us closer to the first comprehensive energy reform package since 2007, both will require further amendment to address more controversial topics. They leave many elements of energy reform open ended. Areas not covered by the bills now create opportunities for industry and other stakeholders to continue working with Congress to shape the legislation later on in the process.

Items notably absent from one or both bills include Keystone XL, lifting the crude oil export ban (in the House), streamlining the liquefied natural gas export process, provisions related to baseload energy and capacity markets, provisions pertaining to fracking, expansion of navigable waters, coal ash, and greenhouse gas regulations.

Renewal of Energy Tax Provisions

Also, the Senate Finance Committee held a markup to extend or renew certain energy tax provisions that had expired at the end of 2014. The measure was approved 23-3 on a roll call vote and includes extensions of credits for biofuel production, renewable energy production, the wind production tax credit, bonus depreciation, nonbusiness energy property, and energy-efficient commercial and residential buildings. Other energy provisions were withdrawn at the time of the markup and will be revisited later as it advances through the process. Notably, the solar ITC tax credit was not addressed by the committee-passed measure.

Opportunities to Engage in the Process

With so much momentum building for energy legislation before the August recess, expect Congress to return energized and ready to take on more controversial ideas this September. More than almost any other legislation, a package of this magnitude will have wide-ranging effects on the economy and energy markets. Oil and gas companies, coal and nuclear generators, wind energy developers, solar installers, utilities, manufacturers, and end users all have a significant stake in the development of this bill. And we believe that there is ample opportunity for everyone to engage in the legislative process going forward.

There remains much work to be done. Anyone with an interest in energy policy will need to pay attention to this process as it moves forward. Energy public policy is nearing the President’s doorstep for the first time in about decade.

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