Lawmakers kick off 2015 with deluge of energy, enviro bills 

Source: Robin Bravender and Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2015

As House lawmakers got back to work this week, they rolled out a spate of energy and environmental bills they’re hoping to see movement on this Congress.

Among the more than 100 bills rolled out by House lawmakers during the first days of the 114th Congress were measures ranging from regulatory reform bills to legislation aimed at boosting energy exports. Many of the bills have been reintroduced this week after failing to become laws during past sessions of Congress.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) yesterday reintroduced H.R. 185, the “Regulatory Accountability Act,” which would impose additional requirements for agency rulemakings. Among other things, it would mandate advance notice of major proposed rules and require agencies to choose the least-costly rules that meet legal objectives.

“The Regulatory Accountability Act addresses the problem of escalating, excessive federal regulatory costs in a clear, commonsense way that we can all support,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “This legislation directs the executive branch to fulfill its statutory goals set by Congress and requires simply that they reach those goals in the least costly way with better public input to find the most efficient regulatory solutions.”

A previous version of the bill cleared the House last February as part of a broader package of bills to impose new requirements on agency rulemaking. That package prompted a veto threat from the White House (E&ENews PM, Feb. 27, 2014).

Oil and gas legislation

House Republicans also made a fresh push to fast-track exports of domestic gas to allies of the United States and lift a decades-old ban on crude exports.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) reintroduced legislation that would repeal the crude oil export ban under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, alongside GOP co-sponsors Reps. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Ted Poe of Texas and Jeff Duncan of South Carolina.

The “Crude Oil Export Act,” H.R. 156, mirrors language that McCaul introduced last year to ease restrictions on oil exports. That measure, H.R. 4349, attracted eight co-sponsors.

Currently, the United States freely exports oil products like gasoline, but companies are required to obtain licenses from the Department of Commerce to export crude. Congress passed a ban on crude exports in the 1970s after the Arab oil embargo, but the White House has the authority to deem certain exports in the nation’s best interest.

Efforts to lift the ban haven’t advanced as far in the Senate, where Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, now at the helm of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has been issuing reports — and making the case — about the merits of lifting the ban, but has not yet introduced legislation.

Republicans are also keen to fast-track exports of domestic gas to U.S. allies. Jim Bridenstine yesterday introduced legislation, H.R. 89, that would allow for the expedited approval of liquefied natural gas exports to members of the World Trade Organization.

Poe introduced legislation, H.R. 28, to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. But it’s a different version, H.R. 3 by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), that lawmakers are scheduled to vote on tomorrow.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) introduced H.R. 70, a bill that appears to be a reintroduction of her 2013 “Deficit Reduction, Job Creation and Energy Security Act.” The bill directs the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to “initiate immediate action to create jobs in America.”

The bill’s text was not available at press time, and Jackson-Lee’s office did not immediately respond to a request for a copy of the bill. But if it follows the earlier version, it would require Interior to increase the acreage leased to oil and gas companies by 10 percent, with the proceeds set aside for deficit reduction and state grants from NOAA for coastal restoration and protection.

Ethanol rollback, wild horses, chemical security bills

For the third time, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has introduced legislation aimed at curtailing E15, or gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol. U.S. EPA has approved E15 for use in light-duty vehicles with model years 2001 or newer, but critics in the oil industry have alleged that the fuel would damage car engines and fuel systems. Currently, most gasoline sold in the country contains 10 percent ethanol.

Sensenbrenner’s bill would revoke EPA’s approval of the fuel and require the agency to commission a study by the National Academy of Sciences before the fuel can be approved again.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee in April 2013 approved the legislation along party lines (Greenwire, April 11, 2013). It was one of several bills that opponents of ethanol introduced last Congress in attempts to reform the renewable fuel standard and halt the introduction of more ethanol into the market.

H.R. 152, by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), appears to be the reintroduction of a familiar wild horses bill. The text has not yet been publicly released, but the legislation’s description suggests that it is the latest iteration of his “Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act.”

That measure, which Jones has introduced in one form or another since 2010, would direct the Interior secretary to add wild horses to the list of species managed at the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It passed the GOP-led House during the 113th Congress by unanimous consent, but was never taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Jackson Lee also introduced H.R. 54, a bill intended to boost security at chemical facilities. Another bill from the Texas Democrat, H.R. 48, would direct the Federal Bureau of Investigation to review its Terrorist Screening Database and a different watch list used by the Transportation Security Administration to see whether the databases are complete and accurate.

President Obama signed a bill into law last year reauthorizing the Department of Homeland Security’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program. It allows DHS to use the Terrorist Screening Database to provide information to chemical facility owners about their employees to ensure maximum security, but employees are allowed to challenge incorrect information. Labor groups have warned that the information is not always accurate and may unfairly stigmatize employees who pose no security risk.

Jackson Lee has previously pushed unsuccessfully for DHS to accept background checks for other federal security programs sufficient for employees at CFATS-covered facilities (E&E Daily, June 23, 2011).

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) reintroduced a bill meant to protect black lung disease benefits for coal miners if Republicans succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act, which includes a provision on black lung benefits.