The long-awaited conference committee that will resolve differences between the House's and Senate's competing energy bills is expected to take at least an initial step this week, as lawmakers race the clock in the hopes of getting the first major energy bill signed into law in nearly a decade.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) last week said he expected conferees to be named before lawmakers leave town Thursday for the weeklong Memorial Day recess (Greenwire, May 19).
The House, which passed its own energy bill (H.R. 8) in December, for weeks has been weighing its strategy for responding to last month's Senate passage of its bipartisan energy package (S. 2012).
The Rules Committee will meet tomorrow afternoon to set the terms of the debate on the revised bill that was filed over the weekend, which is nearly three times as long as H.R. 8.
It includes a controversial drought relief package (H.R. 2898) the House passed last summer, which the White House has threatened to veto (Greenwire, July 16, 2015). The Senate bill does not specifically address drought in California, which is the subject of a separate effort in the upper chamber.
To match the critical minerals provisions in the Senate bill, the revised House bill includes H.R. 1937, which passed last fall along a party-line vote (E&E Daily, Oct. 23, 2015).
The House also included its own sportsmen's package (H.R. 2406), which passed in February over the White House's serious concerns (Greenwire, Feb. 26).
The House additionally folded in its version of the "America COMPETES Act" (H.R. 1806) that passed in May of last year under the threat of a White House veto (E&E Daily, July 9, 2015).
Another bill (H.R. 538) that drew a veto threat would streamline regulations for developing energy on tribal land (E&E Daily, Oct. 9, 2015).
The new House package also includes an assortment of public lands bills.
After the House passes its amendments to the Senate bill, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) can then name conferees. Conferees would include key members from both parties on the Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources committees, although lobbyists have said that members from other panels could be included to address issues in their jurisdiction.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said last week she's "itching" to launch the conference and hoped the upper chamber would be able to name its own conferees as well before leaving for the break.
"It's a pretty short procedure," she said. "I'm told it's just a couple hours."
A GOP aide said a move to go to conference would depend on the chamber's schedule this week, which includes the defense authorization bill.
Following passage of the Senate bill, Murkowski said she was hoping that a quick conference could produce a bill the president could sign before the August recess. That may be a tall order, given a busy legislative agenda and election-year pressures.
Conference committees have become increasingly rare on Capitol Hill in recent years but are given wide leeway in how they operate, according to the Congressional Research Service.
"Conference committees generally are free to conduct their negotiations as they choose, but they are to address only the matters on which the House and Senate have disagreed," CRS wrote last year.
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the Energy and Power Subcommittee that wrote the House bill, said last week that the conference may employ a combination of informal discussions and formal meetings (E&E Daily, May 19).
Schedule: The Rules meeting is Tuesday, May 24, at 3 p.m. in H-313 of the Capitol.
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