Whitfield sees potential political score; Murkowksi optimistic

By Hannah Northey, Geof Koss | 07/22/2015 06:37 AM EDT

A top House Republican beginning the process of shepherding energy legislation through the lower chamber said the language is a jumping-off point for deeper, bipartisan negotiations and potential political scores.

A top House Republican beginning the process of shepherding energy legislation through the lower chamber said the language is a jumping-off point for deeper, bipartisan negotiations and potential political scores.

Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said during an interview on Capitol Hill yesterday that he doesn’t expect members to introduce amendments to an energy bill the subcommittee released this week and that contentious provisions haven’t been tacked onto the bill yet. The panel will mark up the legislation this morning.

But going forward, Whitfield said Republicans have a long list of asks, including language that would lift a decades-old ban on exporting domestic oil, reauthorize a pipeline safety law and repeal Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that mandated that federal buildings reduce reliance on fossil fuels, with 100 percent reduction by 2030.


The GOP also wants to expand the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s authority to address capacity markets and manage pipeline reviews, but Whitfield left off placing a time frame on approvals of domestic gas exports, saying that process is moving forward on its own. Overall, Whitfield said the legislation, stripped of contentious language, is really just a starting point, and he’s hopeful that between now and when the full committee takes up the measure in September, discussions across the aisle will continue.

"We’re going to have two options. One, we’re going to have a bill that doesn’t accomplish what we want to accomplish or what the other side wants to accomplish, or we’re going to have a bill where we give up some significant things and they give up some significant things," Whitfield said. "Or we’re going to have a bill that has everything we want in it, and we use that for the presidential year for setting up contrast."

While Whitfield was expressing optimism about the House legislation, the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee remained hopeful yesterday that her panel’s comprehensive energy bill could begin moving soon.

Some suggested the House bill is notable for what it leaves out. Republican political operative Michael McKenna, president of MWR Strategies said the House language at this stage is not the legacy project that Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) should have wanted because the language doesn’t change the debate.

"In the desire to make it noncontroversial, it’s noncontroversial," McKenna said. "The problem with that is that anything everywhere in the history of mankind that’s worth doing has to anger people."

House Republicans’ efforts to scrub the long-awaited language of any points of contention appeared to satisfy some, while continuing to trigger complaints among some industry and environmental groups and attract only tepid support from Democrats.

Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, said in a statement yesterday that while the bill includes significant improvements — and input from both sides of the aisle — challenges remain.

"While progress has been made, though, there is much work still left to be done," Rush said in a joint statement with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the full House committee’s ranking member.

Rush later said during an interview that negotiations surrounding the language will continue past the August recess and that he hopes to beef up the bill’s efficiency provisions. "Frankly, I want to get more robust ideas from the Democratic side," he said.

America’s Natural Gas Alliance applauded the committee’s bipartisan workmanship in a statement, but complained the measure left out language that would have put a timeline on federal decisions for the export of domestic natural gas to foreign shores. Environmentalists were even more critical.

Friends of the Earth climate and energy campaigner Kate DeAngelis outlined a host of problems with the bill during an interview, arguing that provisions would encourage the use of fossil fuels while doing nothing to curb climate change or foster renewables.

DeAngelis said a provision in the bill that aims to put a clock on federal pipeline reviews could be interpreted to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more authority in shaping — and possibly undermining — environmental reviews of proposed natural gas pipelines. The bill would require federal and state agencies to "give deference" to FERC’s recommendation for the scope of environmental reviews.

Another sore point among green groups is the bill’s silence on climate change.

DeAngelis noted that the "Energy Security and Diplomacy" title of the bill calls for coordination with Canada and Mexico on oil and gas, transmission and storage, but not renewables.

"I think they were trying to neuter this as much as possible, and obviously, the main authors are against taking any action on climate change," she said. "I think this is really just a vehicle to advance the fossil fuel industry."

But Whitfield dismissed those complaints.

"Environmental groups are always concerned about everything, that’s the reality," he said.

In Senate, small items ‘need to get ironed out’

In the Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said yesterday that discussions continue with ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) over the committee’s comprehensive energy bill.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Cantwell, Murkowski continued to maintain that the remaining issues are relatively minor.

"Some of them are just little things that we just need to get ironed out but most everyone agrees that we’ll be able to work through," she said, noting that there were more than 100 bills referred to the committee for consideration in the package. "As you get closer to producing something both sides want to make sure that we’re really all together now. So that’s what we’re working through now."

While Murkowski said she hopes to get to a markup this week, the clock continues to tick on her goal.

She also reiterated that the bill as introduced is unlikely to address hot-button issues such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

"It’s not the bill that I would have designed," Murkowski told reporters. "I would have had my favorite, ANWR, in there, but you’re not going to see ANWR."

However, she added, more contentious issues are fair game once the bill is open to amendment.

"The process can be very fluid after this," she said. "We can’t control a lot once it gets to the committee and people want to introduce amendments; that’s the beauty of a committee that’s allowed to function, where you have members say, ‘Hey, this is my priority. I want to run an amendment, I want to see where the votes are.’"

Reporter Sam Pearson contributed.