Senators push biofuel, flood, energy bills

Source: By Courtney Columbus, Ariel Wittenberg and Marc Heller, E&E News reporters • Posted: Friday, March 1, 2019

Lawmakers this week introduced a variety of energy and environmental bills, including proposals dealing with biofuel regulations, oil and gas standards, flood maps, and nuclear power.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reintroduced legislation that would allow year-round sales of E15 fuel, which is 15 percent ethanol, and relax regulations on biofuels and biomass.

S. 581, called the “Fuel Choice and Deregulation Act,” would lift mandates that limit the conversion of vehicles to handle fuel with greater ethanol content.

And it would prevent EPA from restricting fuel derived from biomass. The language specifies the administration “may not prohibit or control biomass fuel.”

The legislation has support from ethanol groups. The lawmakers introduced a similar version in 2015, but it didn’t receive a vote in committee.

“The EPA has long imposed regulatory burdens that have prevented innovation in the fuel market and limited options for consumers across the country who would like to purchase alternative fuels like biofuels from Iowa,” Grassley said in a news release.

“Allowing more consumer choice at the pump fits in well with President Trump’s deregulatory agenda,” he said. “This bill would level the playing field by removing the EPA’s impediments to market competition and provide more access to cleaner, domestic renewable fuels.”

Flood maps

H.R. 1402, from Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), would charge the U.S. Geological Survey with creating and updating flood maps used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in its National Flood Insurance Program.

USGS scientists study the nation’s landscape — including things like hydrology and geology that could contribute to flood risk — but FEMA is the agency currently charged with creating and updating maps for the NFIP.

FEMA has come under criticism in recent years for being slow to update the flood maps, many of which are not precise in showing risk.

The maps are used to determine whether homes are located within the 100-year floodplain, which would require homeowners to obtain flood insurance. But they don’t take into account crucial factors like the amount of pavement in an area.

Crawford introduced a similar version of the bill last year, but it failed to gained significant traction on the Hill (Greenwire, April 19, 2018).

Oil and gas

H.R. 1391, from Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), would offer “regulatory relief” from EPA’s methane rule for certain oil and gas wells.

Thompson introduced H.R. 7231, called the “Methane Rule Relief Act,” in December.

Nuclear

A bipartisan group of senators yesterday introduced a bill to require Congress to approve any civil nuclear cooperation agreements — called 123 agreements — the U.S. reaches with Saudi Arabia.

The legislation also says no such agreement should be approved until the Saudi government “has been truthful and transparent with regard to the death of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government, died last year after entering that country’s consulate in Istanbul (E&E News PM, Oct. 22, 2018).

The bill says an agreement shouldn’t be approved until Saudi Arabia renounces uranium processing and enrichment within its borders, agrees to an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency and makes “significant progress on the protection of human rights, including through the release of political prisoners.”

“This important bill will ensure Congress has oversight over and the right to affirmatively approve any civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, and also continues to press the Saudis for full accountability in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are investigating overtures from White House officials to Saudi Arabia on nuclear power (Energywire, Feb. 26).

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