Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton this week will take the first significant step on the long road toward a new comprehensive energy bill, which would be the most ambitious overhaul to policies affecting pipelines, transmission and energy efficiency in more than eight years.
Details of the framework being crafted by the Michigan Republican and other committee members remained largely under wraps ahead of the formal announcement, which is expected as soon as today. But Upton said the United States needs to update outdated policies that make it more difficult to take advantage of newly discovered oil and natural gas reserves and other recent developments.
"We have gone from bust to boom in energy but now Jimmy Carter-era policies threaten our ability to reap the benefits," Upton said in a statement.
Pointing to the "Architecture of Abundance" plan he offered last year, Upton said he and other committee members would build on that effort with "a framework to modernize infrastructure, prepare our workforce, take advantage of our energy as a force for good in the world, and boost efficiency and accountability."
The committee, an aide said, this week plans to outline additional details of the framework, which is being divided into four main headings: infrastructure, workforce development, energy diplomacy, and efficiency and accountability. Stakeholders were briefed on the broad outlines of the framework last week (E&E Daily, Feb. 6).
Perhaps as notable as what will go into the framework is what will be omitted. Sources briefed on the plan say it is unlikely to call for a repeal of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan or other major rules in order to prevent an immediate revolt from Democrats or the White House. However, it likely would propose at least some regulatory changes, so environmentalists are withholding judgment for now.
"It is certainly notable — if true — that Republican Leadership recognizes stopping the EPA from cleaning up carbon pollution is as much a poison pill for legislation as it is for the planet," Franz Matzner of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in an email Friday. "That said, there appear to be a lot of wolves hiding in this sheep’s clothing, so the details will matter."
Sources expect the framework to be a mix of new ideas and previously proposed legislation and to come with bipartisan support. For example, lobbyists briefed on the bill said they expected the workforce provision to be modeled on legislation proposed last year by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) to expand education and training programs for energy-related jobs, with an emphasis on increasing the number of women and minorities in such roles. Rush is the top Democrat on the E&C Subcommittee on Energy and Power.
Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), two of the lower chamber’s leading champions of energy efficiency policies, also have been working with Upton in hopes of seeing some of their proposals included in the package, a source familiar with the discussions said.
The pair last year won House passage of H.R. 2126, a narrow efficiency bill that would have established a voluntary Tennant Star program to make buildings more efficient and encouraged federal agencies to reduce their energy use. McKinley and Welch also teamed up to introduce several other efficiency bills, most notably the "Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act," a companion to legislation championed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). It remains to be seen whether those proposals would be included in the Upton framework.
The House is also slated to focus on accelerating the construction of natural gas pipelines, a somewhat thorny issue that’s already triggered partisan debates and a White House veto threat earlier this year.
Martin Edwards, vice president of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said he believes the House strategy could align but somewhat differ from Rep. Mike Pompeo’s (R-Kan.) "Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act," H.R. 161, which the House approved last month on a 253-169 vote.
The bill, which split Democratic supporters from those who said it was unnecessary and could spike power prices, would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a year to approve or deny a pipeline and other agencies three or four months beyond that to complete their work on any additional permits, licenses or approvals that would be needed.
"My guess is it’ll be slightly different, but I think the intent will be similar," he said.
The House, with the industry’s blessing, is moving to ensure the permitting process for gas transmission lines is more orderly, timely and predictable, Edwards said. Debates over the Pompeo bill, he added, missed the larger point that there are a multitude of federal and state agencies that must sign off on proposed projects — even if FERC approves construction certificates, proposed pipelines can still hit snags with other state and federal agencies.
"That’s where the majority of delays happen," Edwards said. "It’s not really about FERC’s deadlines, it’s about other agencies’ deadlines, or lack thereof."
Some Democrats from energy-hungry states like New Jersey and Massachusetts argued that Pompeo’s bill would turn FERC into a "super permitting agency" forced to make decisions on complex pipelines crossing multiple states and intersecting vulnerable wildlife areas. And the White House said the measure would create statutory and regulatory conflict, limit public comment, and impose "unworkable" timelines, and argued that FERC already approves most projects within a year (E&ENews PM, Jan. 20).
But Edwards said those arguments miss the point. "I think the industry response is generally that a timely ‘no’ is better than an indefinite ‘maybe,’" Edwards said. "A timely no can be challenged in court."