Senate reform bill back on floor this afternoon

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Senate’s nine-year drought in passing comprehensive energy reform legislation appears poised to end as soon as today.

Senate leadership aides say the bipartisan package — S. 2012, which was passed by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last summer — will resurface this afternoon.

Last night, senators overwhelmingly voted to end debate on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. They will likely vote on final passage at around noon. The energy bill will return after that, aides said.

Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said the bill may be done “before the New York primaries are over with” — referencing today’s much-anticipated voting in the Empire State.

Disagreement over aid to help Flint, Mich., recover from its drinking water crisis helped paralyze the energy bill. Now that it is back on the agenda, lobby groups have restarted their push over provisions.

The League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and other environmental groups have weighed in on some of the amendments under consideration as part of an agreement last week on the energy bill’s return (E&E Daily, April 14).

In a letter to Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Cantwell, the groups took issue with an amendment by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) to require the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to review the effect of its new well control rule on small businesses.

They are opposed to West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s carbon capture and sequestration amendment, which they say assumes that co-firing biomass and trapping CO2 “automatically creates negative carbon emissions.”

Also drawing objections is North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s amendment related to management of Corolla wild horses in his state’s Outer Banks.

The groups say the proposal “obstructs science-based management and could compromise habitat for wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act” by requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service to enter into an agreement to manage a non-native species in the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge.

In a separate letter, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the National Wildlife Federation and other groups also urged senators to oppose Burr’s plan.

Additionally, green groups are opposed to Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford’s proposal to limit land acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund until the administration meets certain requirements on public land maintenance.

They are against an amendment by Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) requiring a study of the so-called Clean Line transmission project and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s amendment to create economic freedom zones that would allow exemptions from what groups call “bedrock environmental protections.”

Environmentalists are backing an amendment by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to allow federal mortgage lenders to consider a home’s energy efficiency and monthly energy bills when determining a homebuyer’s ability to make payments.

Also earning support from the environmental movement is an amendment by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to direct the Treasury Department to submit a report to Congress on the establishment of Clean Energy Victory Bonds and a proposal by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to hand the Department of Energy more flexibility in selling crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve so sales occur when prices are high.

Meanwhile, the conservative Heritage Action for America yesterday issued a revised “key vote alert” against the Senate bill, which the group opposed in January.

Heritage Action singled out a number of amendments that lawmakers plan to consider en bloc, saying the package “doubles down on the big government interventionism embodied in the underlying bill.”

The group is separately telling allies to oppose the Bennet-Isakson amendment, which Heritage Action says would effectively increase loan applicants’ income because underwriters would have to reduce their estimated future living costs.

“The net effect of this amendment would be to inflate home prices, burden individuals with higher loans than they need or can afford, and increase the number of risky government backed-mortgages in the housing market — all at the taxpayer’s expense,” said the group.