This week, the Senate passed a bipartisan energy reform package. Next up: conferencing with the House on a final bill, which is expected to pose challenges for lawmakers as key differences exist between the chambers' packages. On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily reporter Geof Koss discusses the main points of contention heading into the conference and talks about the timeline for getting a final bill to the president's desk.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. This week the Senate passed a bipartisan energy package. Next up: conferencing with the House on a final bill. E&E Daily's Geof Koss is here with details on next steps and the key differences between the two chambers' packages. Geof, thanks for coming on the show.
Geof Koss: Hi, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Geof, let's first put the Senate's bill into context. It's the first energy package in almost a decade. How significant is the bill in terms of what it accomplishes and how it address some controversial energy issues?
Geof Koss: I think it's important to look at that context because it's been almost 10 years since Congress has legislated on energy and in the intervening years we've had a fracking boom. We have now cheap natural gas. We have cheap solar. The regulatory landscape under President Obama is far different from 2007 when President George Bush signed that law.
So a lot has changed. I think that actually helped pave the way for this legislation. Congress has been fighting over climate change and that made it impossible to do a lot on energy, but I think people are starting to realize that things do need to happen so we can catch up with some of the technology changes that have happened.
So the bill itself, I think Senators Murkowski and Cantwell really tried very hard to use a process that took input from members of both sides. I think Senator Murkowski said this week there's about 80 senators have provisions in the bill in some form. There's about 64 amendments that were added during the two-month floor debate, which was interrupted for a while.
Basically, let's see. We've got efficiency, which is always a very popular area. Remains popular on both sides of the Capitol and among members of both parties. We've got the Shaheen-Portman efficiency bill, which they've been trying for years to get that done.
We've got the recommendations from the Department of Energy's Quadrennial Energy Review focused on upgrading infrastructure. We've got a supply title looking at renewables, traditional energy sources, and we've got a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is a popular program, but there's some controversy involved with that as well.
Monica Trauzzi: There's so much emphasis on the fact that this is bipartisan, but is everyone happy with it? What's the reaction been?
Geof Koss: If you look at the final vote in the Senate was 85 to 12. I think the 12 Republican senators who opposed it, a lot of them had concerns about the Land and Water Conservation Fund. There are a lot of very conservative senators including some on the committee; Mike Lee, who's really opposed to that part.
Environmentalists have been not super-thrilled with the bill. I think they acknowledged that there's some good stuff in here on renewables and some other programs, but they're concerned about provisions that will put a deadline on the Energy Department to finalize applications for natural gas exports, which they're very concerned about.
There was an amendment added on the floor that basically instructs the Obama administration to consider biomass as a renewable energy source. That's also a lot of controversy, and they're very upset about that as well.
Monica Trauzzi: You've been doing some key reporting on the key differences between the House and Senate legislation. What do you see as the most controversial issues that might be difficult to overcome during conference?
Geof Koss: The Land and Water Conservation Fund is going to be a good one because House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop does not want to see that program permanently reauthorized without major reforms. I think there are some changes in the Senate bill to how the program operates, but I don't think it's going to go far enough to satisfy him. That's going to make it hard to get a lot of the conservatives in the House to support this bill.
At the time when the House passed their own bill, I guess it was December, there were only, oh gee, I think there were only nine Democrats ultimately supported the bill. One of the concerns is that it doesn't do enough to address climate change.
I spoke with Frank Pallone, who's the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, this week. He said that he really wants to see actual money included on the bill to upgrade infrastructure, including the electric grid and pipelines. That is going to be a tough thing to do. Anything that spends money is going to run into opposition in the House.
Also, to get the bill through the House in December, they added a few things on the floor including crude oil exports, which brought along a lot of conservatives there. The crude oil export ban was repealed last December in a later law. So that's something that's not going to be in there.
So I think it's going to be tough to strike a balance to get people on board.
Monica Trauzzi: Sounds like it could get a little sticky. So on timing, what are we looking at? How does this all move and eventually get to the president's desk?
Geof Koss: Well, I talked to Ed Whitfield, who's one of the relevant chairmen on the Energy and Commerce Committee, this week and Lisa Murkowski, and they both want to get going on a conference as quickly as possible because this is an election year. Congress isn't going to be here a lot. They're going to have a very long August recess. Murkowski would like to see a bill finished and sent to the president's desk before the August recess. That may be a heavy lift.
Also, she doesn't want to see this slide into the lame duck because this could be a tough vote. Heritage Action for America, which has been very opposed to the bill, I'm sure they're going to be working very hard to whip up opposition to it in the final product in the House.
So it could be that it does slide to the lame duck because no one's going to want to take a tough vote before November.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. We'll end it right there. Thank you as always and thanks for some great reporting.
Geof Koss: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
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