RFS reform will be ‘tremendously difficult’ — Shimkus

Source: Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 2, 2017

A key GOP lawmaker said today that the House could pass legislation to overhaul the federal renewable fuel standard by this fall, but warned that it will be an uphill fight.

On a scale of one to 10, Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) placed the odds of RFS reform clearing the chamber within seven months at a six.

“It’s going to be tremendously difficult,” he told reporters during a briefing on the Energy and Commerce Committee agenda.

Nonetheless, Shimkus said two key lawmakers who have built up bipartisan support for RFS reform legislation over the years — Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) — have agreed to sit down and try to broker a compromise.

The “ultimate goal of just freeing up the market, getting away from the mandate and letting competition fill the void — that’s going to be a lot, a heavy lift,” he said.

Still, Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who bested the more senior Shimkus for the gavel of the powerful panel last year, said RFS reform “is a priority for the committee.”

“We all know something needs to happen here, and I think the different groups understand that something needs to happen,” he told reporters.

He praised Shimkus, whose district includes a refining presence and major corn production, for being at the “forefront” of the RFS issue for much of his career.

“Nobody knows it better than John does,” Walden said. “And we’re committed to try to figure out a path forward that can get to the president’s desk that brings reform in this area.”

Shimkus said it’s important to have a “big vote to show the Senate that’s there’s a lot of people behind this.”

“And everybody’s taking their pound of flesh,” he added. “Otherwise, my friends from states similar to me will circle the wagons and stop any reform.”

Shimkus said he’s hoping for guidance on the RFS from the Trump administration, which is struggling to see the Cabinet confirmed and fill out lower-tier political positions in federal agencies.

“There are just too many pieces to figure out where they’re at and where they’re going,” he said.

Earlier this week, a key ethanol industry official said the Trump administration would soon move the point of obligation for blending biofuels into gasoline from refiners to fuel blenders. However, the White House yesterday said no such executive order is in the works (Greenwire, March 1).

Shimkus today signaled he’s not a fan of the shift. “The vast majority of interested parties are in opposition to changing the point of obligation,” he said. “Changing that really empowers a minority of the interested parties, not the majority, which I think is problematic.”

Shimkus, whose subcommittee was awarded oversight of the Clean Air Act this Congress, said legislation addressing EPA’s recently updated ozone standard will move in the coming weeks.

Looking longer term, he said he will encourage members of his subcommittee to begin doing a “deep dive” on the Superfund program and Clean Air Act. But noting that the successful overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act he shepherded into law last year took years, Shimkus suggested a broader rewrite of the air law is not coming anytime soon.

“Long term, is four, five, six years,” he said.

Infrastructure push

Walden said the potential impact of policy changes on consumers will be the driving force behind legislation.

“Our goal is to put the consumer first and build the policy from there,” he said, saying the committee’s policies will be “balanced and responsible and consumer-based.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the former full committee chairman who now heads the Subcommittee on Energy, said the energy package his committee assembled last year — which passed with some Democratic support but collapsed in conference talks in December — will likely be part of an energy title in the upcoming infrastructure bill, which President Trump last night reiterated should be $1 trillion.

“Picking up the pieces again, I think we can go back and look at a good number of things that we were able to reach a consensus on and particularly focusing on the jobs side of things,” he said. Having an infrastructure title in the broader bill “will help us avoid the steel trap of the 60 votes to get a separate bill in the Senate.”

That title will address pipelines and reforms to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, he said. There’s no timeline for the infrastructure bill, but Upton noted a long list of complex legislative priorities will be attended to first.

Upton said he’s also planning to meet with industry to discuss ways to boost the electric grid and other energy infrastructure from cyberattacks. “We want to make sure that our infrastructure is protected not only from physical attacks but also cyberattacks,” he said.

Shimkus said the infrastructure push could also include funds to boost water infrastructure programs — an idea floated by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last night (E&E Daily, March 1).

“I think that’s positive,” he said of Pruitt’s comments.

Shimkus also said EPA’s brownfields program — which provides grant money to remediate and redevelop contaminated sites — could also be a “portion of that big bill that we can do now.”

Energy Department

Shimkus said he hopes to move legislation addressing the nuclear waste stalemate before the August recess. It would address land and water issues surrounding the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, as well as “some technical stuff you have to do” (E&E News PM, Feb. 21).

He called it important to send signals that “we have a long-term storage solution” for nuclear waste and that the administration “is on board” and we’re moving noticeably forward on that.”

Once that occurs, “we’re going to entertain options for interim storage” — a solution that a bipartisan group of senators has pushed for several years without success.

Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said yesterday that she has not yet met this year with members of the group, which include Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). The four senators represent the chairs and ranking members on the appropriations and authorizing panels of jurisdiction over DOE’s waste programs.

In a related effort, Walden said committee Vice Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) is undertaking a broad look at DOE’s operations, with the goal of reauthorizing the department later this year (E&E Daily, Jan. 25).

“A lot’s changed in the energy world and in their jurisdiction, probably since the last time there was a major reorganization,” Walden said. “So it’s in part management, right-sizing, operations, and then policy.”

He signaled that other agencies under the committee’s purview will see similar reviews “about programs, about operations.”