Despite deep partisan divides that surfaced on the House floor, the chamber last night moved forward on a far-reaching energy package that now includes language to lift a decades-old ban on exporting oil and to speed cross-border reviews of projects like Keystone XL.
Lawmakers waded through 33 of the 38 amendments up for consideration before adjourning. Three amendment votes will take place today with final passage likely.
The House approved a host of amendments to H.R. 8, the broad bill at the center of negotiations between House Democrats and Republicans to increase efficiency, speed natural gas exports and modernize the aging electric grid.
In a key vote, House members voted 255-168 to approve an amendment from Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to allow international sales of crude oil, a move that drew sharp opposition on the other side of the aisle.
Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California, ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, argued that Barton's amendment would benefit Big Oil and ship $30 billion worth of domestic crude oil annually to countries like China instead of decreasing costly imports. What the bill needed, he said, was controls on exports.
"Why don't we put a control on this: If it's not in the public interest, don't do it," Garamendi said. "Make sure that our refineries, $8.7 billion of refining infrastructure, will not be built as a result of this export."
But Barton, a longtime proponent of allowing overseas sales, argued that 250,000 jobs have been lost in the United States -- truck drivers, computer programmers, restaurant workers and other positions -- since oil prices have fallen precipitously in the past few months. While the United States can't know who will buy the oil, he said the money is sure to come back to benefit the nations.
"There's only one commodity that we prohibit by law from being exported, and it's crude oil. We don't prohibit cotton; we don't prohibit corn; we don't prohibit ethanol; we don't prohibit automobiles; we don't prohibit video games or movies," he said, adding, "We only prohibit crude oil, that's No. 1."
Members also voted to include a Democratic amendment that aims to speed up reviews of U.S. energy infrastructure projects that cross the borders of Canada and Mexico.
The House voted 263-158 to approve the amendment offered by Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) that would consolidate federal permit reviews of cross-border infrastructure projects that stalled the Keystone XL pipeline for years. The language, backed by industry, would establish a permitting process within the Energy Department, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the State Department.
Green has attempted to push the language through the chamber in the past but drew stiff opposition from Democrats, who called the language the "Zombie Pipeline Act" (E&E Daily, June 19, 2014).
Despite the approval of bipartisan amendments, a host of Democrats criticized their Republican colleagues for pushing the bill forward after bipartisan negotiations had crumbled.
Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois called the energy bill a "highly partisan, backward-looking" measure that does more harm than good. He also complained that Democrats had worked across the aisle for months before the conservative party "turned its collective back on the legislative compromise."
This week, Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of failing to negotiate on a handful of critical provisions (E&E Daily, Dec. 1).
"How in the world did we get to this point?" Rush said.
Underscoring critics' complaints, Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) yesterday called the energy package "backward-facing legislation." The House will vote today on his amendment to prohibit the measure from taking effect until the U.S. Energy Information Administration has analyzed and scored its carbon impact.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) called that "a diversion" designed to delay the implementation of transformative legislation.
Debate over amendments
On smart meters, an amendment to establish minimum privacy standards for the technology, offered by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), was adopted by voice vote. The House also adopted a proposal that would direct the secretary of Energy to study weaknesses in the "security architecture" of smart meters.
"Smart meters are now part of the fabric of what we do day in and day out, and this amendment very carefully identifies their vulnerabilities," said Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), sponsor of the amendment.
Three noncontroversial measures aimed at safeguarding the electric grid were adopted by voice vote, including a bipartisan proposal for a statement on grid modernization policy.
An amendment from Rep. Trent Franks that would secure the grid against electromagnetic pulse attacks advanced on voice vote, after the Arizona Republican urged lawmakers to act while "vulnerabilities are big enough to be seen and still small enough to be addressed."
Upton said he had a few small concerns with the proposal but did not specify them.
Rush, the ranking member on the Energy and Power Subcommittee, said he supported the measure but worried that it could undermine the current process for developing standards for grid security, by focusing only on "high-impact, high-visibility" threats, such as geomagnetic storms.
The House also adopted an amendment from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) that would order the secretary of Energy to submit to Congress a report on methods to secure the grid from severe weather, terror attacks and cyberattacks, vandalism and other threats.
Pallone added his support for "grid resiliency."
The House turned back six other amendments offered by Democrats during the evening vote series.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) fell only a few votes short of adoption on his amendment to require the Interior secretary to notify landowners, and any adjacent landholders, when minerals beneath their land have been leased for oil and gas development. The measure fell, 206-216.
The House also rejected, 179-246, a Democratic amendment that would have reinstated targets for reducing energy from fossil fuels in federal buildings. Whitfield, who has led opposition to the Obama administration's climate agenda in the House, argued that mandates encourage litigation. He said the nation is better served with an "all-of-the-above energy policy."
Rep. Paul Tonko's amendment to reauthorize the weatherization assistance program and also failed, 198-224. The New York Democrat argued that the $2.2 billion price tag for reauthorizing that initiative, plus state energy assistance programs, through 2020 would be money well spent.
But Upton said the weatherization programs are "already extremely well-funded," and the boost would be "in essence billions above" what DOE has previously requested.
Republicans also turned back an amendment by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) that would have restored an existing consumer right to recover costs due to manufacturer misrepresentation of Energy Star products. "Taking away a consumer right weighs towards manufacturers and away from consumers," she said during debate.
Manufacturers, backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others, want to eliminate what they say is a gap in federal law that could have a chilling effect on companies' willingness to participate. The amendment failed, 183-239.
Significant lobbying is surrounding a proposed amendment by GOP Reps. David McKinley of West Virginia and Ryan Zinke of Montana to ensure the completion of environmental review for a proposed coal export terminal in Washington state.
Yesterday, tribes allied with the Lummi Nation, which opposes the project and says it violates treaty-protected fishing rights, spoke with lawmakers against the measure.
The National Association of Manufacturers shot back with a letter urging members to vote for the amendment, saying it would uphold National Environmental Policy Act principles.
Amendments adopted by voice vote include a measure from Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) to boost the use of biomass as a fuel source for electric plants. The measure clarifies that plants can enter into supply contracts that last less than one year, so biomass can compete on the market.
Targeting U.S. EPA, another measure from Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) requires the agency to satisfy regulatory planning and review requirements established by the Clinton and Obama administrations.
The House adopted a measure from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to discourage frivolous lawsuits against energy projects on federal land. It ensures a timely review by the courts on such challenges and would limit attorneys' fees.
Reporter Manuel Quiñones contributed.
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