Senate approves broad energy bill

The Senate on April 20 approved the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, with senators now looking to reconcile the large legislation with a version passed by the House of Representatives in December 2015.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking minority member of the committee, commented on their aim to achieve congressional passage of the first piece of comprehensive energy legislation since 2007.

On the Senate floor April 20, Cantwell said she hopes for a quick conference with House members to reach agreement on broad energy legislation.

Likewise, Murkowski said she is looking forward to working with lawmakers in the House so that both bodies can agree on a bill and send it to President Barack Obama.

The House on Dec. 3, 2015, approved legislation to improve the siting of energy infrastructure projects and the protection of the power grid from physical, cybersecurity and other threats. At that time, the Obama administration indicated it would veto the bill (H.R. 8) for hindering energy efficiency standards and undermining existing regulations.

The Senate bill (S. 2012) approved April 20 includes numerous steps to improve energy efficiency, along with provisions to boost hydropower resources, create jobs to support renewable energy projects, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, reduce energy costs to consumers and improve energy production, senators noted during debate on the measure.

The Senate bill included 65 amendments that were adopted, and it will help the United States become a “global energy superpower,” Murkowski said April 20 following the floor vote. “Our bill will help America produce more energy and it will help America save more energy.”

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) issued an April 20 statement from EEI President Tom Kuhn, noting that the legislation would improve the federal permitting process for critical energy infrastructure, including transmission lines, natural gas pipelines and hydropower projects. The bill also would repeal a ban on fossil fuel-generated energy at federal buildings that was created in a 2007 energy bill, replacing that section with fuel-neutral energy efficiency policies for new and renovated federal buildings, Kuhn said.

The bill would enhance energy industry efforts to develop a diverse and skilled workforce for the future, Kuhn added.

“We look forward to working with both the House and the Senate as they reconcile the differences between their two bills,” Kuhn said.

The vote on the bill in the Senate was 85-12, and Murkowski commented that the bipartisan support shows that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate can work cooperatively on comprehensive legislation.

As TransmissionHub reported, almost 30 amendments were approved by voice vote April 19, with others addressed in roll call votes.

For the transmission sector, an amendment sponsored by Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), that would have the Secretary of Energy report to Congress on a couple steps before the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) puts to use Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 regarding transmission projects was defeated in an April 19 vote. 

Boozman was one of the dozen senators that voted against the full bill.

Among the amendments adopted on April 19 was one co-authored by Murkowski and Cantwell that would establish a new national policy for federal agencies to expand and enhance sportsmen’s opportunities on federal lands, Murkowski said in a separate April 20 statement.

Murkowski said the amendment also would:

·         Make “open unless closed” the standard for access to Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands throughout the United States, including in Alaska

·         Authorize the expansion of the Terror Lake hydroelectric project in Kodiak, Alaska, which would allow Kodiak and the largest Coast Guard base in the United States to continue to utilize reliable, emissions-free energy

·         Authorize a stay of the hydroelectric license for Mahoney Lake in Ketchikan, Alaska, which would allow the Southeast Alaska Power Association to consider this renewable project for up to 10 additional years. If the stay is lifted within that time frame, the licensees have an additional six years to begin construction of the hydroelectric project

In a separate April 20 statement, the Sierra Club said that the Senate bill contains what it terms problematic provisions that would expedite natural gas exports, increased investments in methane hydrates and nuclear energy and measures that undermine the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

“While we applaud the efforts of Senators Murkowski and Cantwell, we ultimately oppose this bill in its current form because of serious policy flaws,” Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said in the statement.

“It is important to note, however, that after months of working together, Senators Murkowski and Cantwell accomplished what most thought was impossible – writing a bill with bipartisan support that keeps out many of the extreme anti-environmental ideological riders we have come to expect from the GOP majority and litter the House bill passed last year,” Pierce said.