Senate energy bill stalled following debate over aid for Flint, Mich.

A broad energy bill in the Senate will continue to be debated after Republicans and Democrats could not agree on whether to include federal aid for Flint, Mich., to address its water crisis, Senate leaders said Feb. 4.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is committed to reaching an agreement on the legislation and will aim to move the bill when the Senate is in session on Feb. 8, a spokesperson for Murkowski told TransmissionHub Feb. 4.

“We are forging ahead” and hope to consider the bill when the Senate session resumes on Feb. 8, the spokesperson said.

Leading up to a cloture vote on Feb. 4, Republicans and Democrats disagreed on whether to include federal aid for Flint, Mich., to deal with its water problems, with Democrats supporting federal funding for the city and most Republicans opposing federal aid for what they view as a local concern.

Whether that issue would be addressed in other legislation in the coming days is not known, according to the spokesperson for Murkowski, who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“As of now, I only know about the energy bill discussion” associated with the Flint water concerns, he said.

The cloture vote, meaning an end to the debate, did not reach the 60 votes needed on Feb. 4, meaning that the bill will continue to be discussed in the chamber following passage of a broad energy bill in the House of Representatives last fall.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a Feb. 4 statement that she aims to move the energy bill.

“Now that it’s clear there are not 60 votes to end debate on the energy bill, both sides should work to resolve the remaining issues‎ that will get us to final passage,” Cantwell said. “We are confident we can work out the remaining issues through good-faith negotiations, including a solution for the water crisis in Flint.”

The bill includes several provisions:

  • A section would establish an interagency working group that would include the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of the Treasury, the chairman of FERC, the chairman of Federal Trade Commission, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Chairman of Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Energy Information Administrator. The group would be to investigate the effects of increased financial investment in energy on U.S. energy prices and security, to recommend to the president and Congress any legislation necessary to prevent excessive speculation and minimize the impacts of such speculation in energy commodity markets, and to review energy security implications of developments in international energy markets.
  • A section mandates FERC to require each regional transmission organization (RTO) to submit a report to the commission six months after the date of enactment that evaluates the characteristics, potential, barriers to deployment, and potential changes to operational requirements related to distributed energy resources and micro-grid systems.
  • A section would develop a grant program at the DOE to provide financial assistance to states to incentivize cost-effective improvements in safety and environmental performance of natural gas distribution systems. $3.5bn for fiscal years 2016 through 2019 would be authorized.
  • A section would authorize a DOE research, development, and demonstration program focused exclusively on grid-scale storage, such as the emergence of a new general purpose element of the grid that combines power electronics, advanced optimizing controls, and storage. Technical assistance to states may be provided by the Secretary of Energy for grid storage. The program is to be authorized at $500m over 10 years.
  • A section would authorize a DOE demonstration grant program focused on integrating and managing advanced grid technology and services such as smart meters, rooftop solar, electric vehicles, grid storage, micro-grids, transactive energy, and demand response, including a focus on distribution-level components of the grid. Each project funded under the program would be required to include a cybersecurity plan