APPROPRIATIONS:

Amid escalating political tension, Senate panel drops energy, water bill from markup agenda

The Senate Appropriations Committee last night suddenly abandoned plans to advance a $34 billion energy and water spending bill this morning. Republicans had been plotting to use the markup to force tough votes on controversial issues including the Obama administration's climate change and clean water regulations.

The cancelation was announced around 8 p.m. last night, and an Appropriations Committee aide offered no explanation for the deviation. Rumors had been circulating during the day yesterday that the hearing would be canceled, but committee aides from both sides of the aisle were saying the markup would proceed a couple of hours before the energy bill was removed from the agenda.

It remains to be seen when or whether the markup will be rescheduled. The committee still plans to mark up two other spending bills that had been on the agenda for this morning' session.

Whenever the bill is marked up -- if it is -- Republicans are sure to pounce on the opportunity to score political points. Three moderate Democrats facing tough re-election races -- Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas -- are members of the Appropriations Committee.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is on the committee and also in a tough re-election race, was quick to accuse Democrats for canceling the session in order to avoid weighing in on the president's climate agenda.

"You'd think the Democrats who praised the President's job-killing EPA regulations would want to stand up and defend them," spokesman Don Stewart said in an email last night. "Apparently not."

The Senate bill would have distributed about $34 billion among the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies. The full text of the bill has not yet been released, as the Senate committee typically does not release the text of its bills until they are marked up.

A House companion that emerged from committee yesterday included provisions blocking the corps from completing a rule that would expand the reach of the Clean Water Act and admonishing the administration for quietly revising how it calculates the costs and benefits of climate change regulations (Greenwire, June 18).

McConnell was planning to offer an amendment that has been described as broadly targeting the Obama administration's climate agenda, although its precise wording was closely guarded. The minority leader earlier this month introduced the "Coal Country Protection Act" (S. 2414), which would block U.S. EPA regulations on new or existing power plants until the Department of Labor, Congressional Budget Office, Energy Information Administration and Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions certified the regulations would have no effect on jobs, the economy, electricity rates or grid reliability.

EPA is funded under the separate Interior and environment spending bill; any effort to target it directly would have to come on that bill because amendments to appropriations bills must be germane to the subject matter under Senate Rule XVI.

It was unclear exactly what the amendment McConnell planned to offer would do. A spokesman said via email, "the language is modified in a way that's germane to energy & water" but did not provide any more detail.

One possibility is McConnell's amendment would seek to force a recalculation of the social cost of carbon, a key variable used in cost-benefit analyses. The Obama administration quietly increased its value last year as part of a low-profile DOE regulation, so going after the SCC could be germane to the energy and water bill. Language added yesterday to the report accompanying the House appropriations bill said the committee "believes" the administration should not use its recalculated SCC value until the Government Accountability Office completes an ongoing review and the new value is subject to a public comment period.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) planned to offer an amendment that would have prevented the Army Corps from completing work on the Clean Water Act rule, GOP aides said. The corps and EPA have spent years on a controversial effort to expand the scope of the water law, which has been a source of massive confusion for environmentalists and regulated industries for well over a decade.

Administration supporters say the rulemaking would clarify which rivers and streams fall under federal jurisdiction and would protect rivers and streams that currently can be polluted without consequence. Industry groups say the rule would be so broad as to make virtually any ditch -- even some without running water -- subject to the law as part of the administration's overzealous approach to regulation.

The prospect of anti-EPA amendments emerging in the Democratic-controlled Senate had environmentalists scrambling. Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership CEO Whit Fosburgh said there was a concern that moderate Democrats in tight races would feel compelled to support such riders.

Groups are noting support for the administration's CWA proposal beyond environmentalists. Pressure from sportsmen and fishermen, they feel, may sway undecided lawmakers.

Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood said in a conference call that the Clean Water Act rule was a "gut check issue for fishermen in general." National Wildlife Federation advocate Adam Kolton said a rider against it would be "against the interests of American sportsmen."

Another issue that was expected to be addressed at the markup was a proposal included in the appropriations bill from the Obama administration's budget request calling on the nuclear energy industry to pay fees into DOE's Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund. The fund pays to clean up three federal facilities that supplied highly enriched uranium for nuclear warheads during the Cold War before being privatized to provide fuel for nuclear power plants.

The nuclear industry says it already has fulfilled its obligation to the fund and should not be subject to further charges (Greenwire, Feb. 15, 2012).

"Not only is there no justification for further taxing nuclear utility ratepayers, there is no need for additional revenues at this time. The uranium decontamination and decommissioning trust fund has a balance of $4 billion; funds are available," wrote Alex Flint, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior vice president for federal affairs, in a letter to Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the Appropriations energy and water subpanel.

A Republican aide said a senator was expected to offer an amendment today to block imposition of the fees -- which were not included in the House bill -- but it was unclear who the sponsor was.

Reporters Manuel QuiƱones and Hannah Northey contributed.

Twitter: @nickjuliano | Email: njuliano@eenews.net

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