WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2015 --Despite lengthy House Energy Committee staff negotiations in August and September, Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., abruptly postponed action on his North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act. He explained that “we need more time as discussions continue.”
The obstacle is renewable energy. Democrats contend there’s not nearly enough support for renewables in either Upton’s bill or the Energy Policy Modernization Act that the Senate Energy Committee passed 18-4 in late July. House Republicans say Upton’s bill has already been pared back to essential non-partisan provisions designed to attract enough Democratic votes in both chambers to send a bipartisan bill to President Obama – while avoiding renewable “sweeteners” that could risk losing some GOP votes.
Scott Segal, an attorney monitoring energy legislation for a diverse array of energy interests, tells Agri-Pulse that markup of the House bill could take place as soon as Sept. 30. He considers the bill’s prospects good because it “addresses areas of significant common ground, like energy efficiency.” He also said it provides a “much-needed opportunity to clarify rulemaking procedures.”
A Washington lobbyist and former House committee staffer who remains close to the panel is equally confident that the House and Senate bills will attract enough Democrats to pass without making any additional concessions on renewable energy. He explains that with the pressure on for “Congress to actually get something done” rather than waste time on more “messaging bills,” both the House and Senate committees “set the agendas for these bills based on what they thought they could reasonably accomplish.”
The lobbyist says that rather than provide more support for renewables, “most Republicans would say that not only has government given renewables a thumb on the scale, it’s given them a fist on the scale.” He insists there’s “no room” in what he says are already well-balanced energy bills to do more for renewables. Instead of providing trade-offs in return for Democrats’ votes, he says, “Republicans believe the pendulum needs to swing back because the market distortions favoring renewables are simply too great right now . . . distorting markets and threatening the reliability of the electricity delivery system.”
But to emphasize the need to do far more for renewables, Democrats unveiled their own energy bill Tuesday, the 437-page American Energy Innovation Act. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the new bill, which would end 44 permanent tax breaks for fossil fuels while increasing support for renewables, is “a top priority for Senate Democrats” and is designed to “address climate change before it’s too late.”
Flanked by some of the 25 Democrats who helped write the legislation, Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, said the bill provides “a technology-driven pathway to a clean energy future.” She said the bill’s measures to support energy efficiency and to transition away from fossil fuels could create more than 3.5 million jobs.
Cantwell added that the bill’s support for clean energy technology would also create new export opportunities such as supplying what is expected to be “a $1.5 trillion energy efficiency market in China between now and 2035.” The bill focuses on carbon reduction, greener buildings, greener trucks, and a national Energy Efficiency Resource Standard which, Cantwell said, “would require utilities to achieve a 1 percent energy savings in 2017 and ramp up to 20 percent by 2030.”
Cantwell explained that the energy bill passed by the Senate Energy Committee in July “was what we could agree on, but it was very clear to both sides that once this bill hit the Senate floor, there were going to be ideas on both sides that people were going to propose.” She said the Democrats’ new energy bill presents “the ideas we are going to be pushing for” whenever the Senate bill reaches the Senate floor.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., insisted Tuesday that the Democrats’ energy bill’s provisions “ought to be bipartisan.” He said the problem is that the Supreme Court decision loosening restrictions on political contributions gave corporate interests, including the fossil fuel industry, “unprecedented political artillery.” He charged that the lack of Republican support for the Democrats’ “common sense” energy proposals shows that the Republican party is “totally in tow” to fossil fuel interests and that “the fossil fuel interests aren’t just polluting our atmosphere, they aren’t just polluting our oceans, they are also polluting our democracy in unprecedented ways.”
One revealing example of Republican push and Democratic pushback came in the House Energy Committee’s markup session last week. After postponing action on Upton’s bill, members discussed H.R. 702 to end the crude oil export ban. Republicans argued that lifting the ban would boost the U.S. economy and create thousands of new jobs. Calling for “a clean energy future,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., responded that “three times as many jobs are supported per $1 million spent in renewable energy than are supported in fossil fuel energy.”
Reacting to the Democrats’ new energy bill Tuesday, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) also focused on the jobs issue. “By providing long-term, steady federal tax and energy policy, this legislation provides the stability that businesses in the solar industry need to grow, adding tens of thousands of new, well-paying solar jobs across the country, which today includes more than 174,000 Americans,” SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch said. “We also applaud the inclusion of programs that remove barriers for low-income Americans, making it easier for everyone to access clean, affordable, reliable solar energy.”
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