WASHINGTON, April 28, 2015-In a possible sign the partisan cloud is lifting, writing comprehensive energy legislation moved another step forward Tuesday. This follows last week’s passage of the bipartisan Portman/Shaheen Energy Efficiency legislation that awaits President Obama’s signature.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz assured senators Tuesday he’s eager to work with Congress on energy legislation. He said he will sit down with legislators to list the “relatively few” administration energy policy recommendations that can be carried out with current authorities versus the many more that will require legislation and “a bipartisan commitment to modernizing the nation’s energy infrastructures.”
Moniz was speaking at a Senate Energy Committee hearing on the Obama administration’s 368-page Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) released last week. The QER calls for more than $15 billion in new energy program spending to “modernize our energy infrastructure, create a clean energy economy built to last, combat climate change, and increase reliance on domestic energy resources.” Moniz said that “the QER is envisioned as a focused, actionable document, designed to provide policymakers, industry, investors and other stakeholders unbiased data and analysis on energy challenges, needs, requirements, and barriers that will inform a range of policy options, including legislation.”
Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, used the hearing to call on the administration to work with Congress on a broad energy bill, including infrastructure modernization as “one of our key titles within that bill.” She said that rather than just issue recommendations, the administration needs to play an active role in drafting a bipartisan bill. Otherwise, she warned, “we are limiting our economic opportunities, we are limiting our potential as a nation when we don’t focus on a longer term view of our energy infrastructure.”
Murkowski said America’s energy infrastructure is “facing serious challenges” and “aging and in urgent need of modernization,” which she said will need federal funds, “even within our constrained budgets.” She said there is also an urgent need to deal with federal regulations, “particularly those that hold back projects and private investments.”
Murkowski added that while the administration has a track record of issuing good reports like the QER, too often “there’s no follow-through with legislative proposals.”
The panel’s ranking member, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., joined in voicing concerns about costs, noting that the Edison Electric Institute estimated back in 2008 that, by 2030, the U.S. electric utility industry would need to make a total infrastructure investment of $1.5 trillion to $2.0 trillion and that as much as $52 billion may be needed for natural gas interstate pipeline investment.
Cantwell then warned about “the cost of doing nothing.” She pointed out that “between 2003 and 2012, an estimated 679 widespread power outages occurred due to severe weather, which cost the U.S. economy $18 billion to $33 billion each year” and that oil and gas pipeline spills, leaks and explosions “have caused a total of $5.5 billion in damage during the past 12 years.”
In Tuesday’s hearing, Republican committee members pushed Moniz hard, seeking his support for GOP priorities such as exports of crude oil, LNG and coal and authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline. Moniz smiled broadly and prefaced his replies by explaining that in many areas such as exports, his department may provide analysis but other departments such as Commerce are the decision makers. He also said DOE is working on streamlining the permitting process and that “We are making progress.”
In response to Cantwell’s concerns about a surge in crude oil shipments by rail displacing grain shipments, Moniz replied that DOE is working with other departments including USDA and the Department of Transportation “to get data on the movement of energy commodities” as a first step toward devising solutions. He also noted that it probably will take two years to conduct the necessary research and come up with answers that deal with the challenge of oil railcar explosions
When Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., asked how the U.S. can improve its relationship with Canada “if we don’t approve the Keystone pipeline,” Moniz deflected the question. Rather than address the specific Keystone issue, he replied only that the U.S. already does lots of energy business with Canada, including importing hydro power, and that “we want to grow it more, independent of any specific project.” When Hoeven said ending the U.S. ban on crude oil exports would boost production and lower gasoline prices, Moniz replied that the U.S. remains a large importer of crude oil and that the possible impact of crude oil exports on U.S. production and price is an unknown which should be researched.