Energy Fight Led to Bill’s Postponement

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By Ari Natter

Sept. 17 — A fight over power grid reliability language that could require the use of more coal and a provision that would bar the Energy Department from participating in the development of energy efficiency building codes were among the reasons a broad House energy bill was pulled from markup, lawmakers and lobbyists told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 17.

Other hang-ups remaining over H.R. 8 include whether to include a provision, opposed by committee Democrats, that would repeal a 2007 law requiring that all new and significantly renovated federal buildings phase out the use of fossil energy by 2030, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, told Bloomberg BNA.

“At this point we can’t get the Democrats to agree to any one of the two or three things we view as important,” Whitfield said. “We’ve bent over backwards.”

The legislation, which would streamline the federal siting process for interstate natural gas pipelines and allow the Energy Department to take certain measures during “grid security emergencies,” was abruptly postponed from consideration on the eve of a House Energy and Commerce Committee markup scheduled for Sept. 17.

Whitfield and others said they hoped to have the bill before the committee in the next few weeks, possibly by the end of September.

Its delay comes amidst ongoing negotiations between minority and majority members of the committee.

Clean Power Plant Provision

“We were moving too fast, we didn’t really have any input,” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Power Subcommittee, told Bloomberg BNA.

The reliability language, which is being championed by Whitfield in response to Environmental Protection Agency regulations on power plants, would require state regulatory authorities to consider “policies to ensure that each such electric utility incorporates sufficient baseload generation into its integrated resource plan,” according to legislative text.

Baseload power sources include coal and nuclear energy, according to the bill

“EPA has been overly aggressive in the [Clean Power Plan], and most experts say it is affecting reliability down the road,” Whitfield said. “It’s about requiring continuous fuel for power. You can’t be totally reliant on intermittent electricity, so that’s what this reliability section is about.”

The EPA's Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33), finalized in August, sets unique carbon dioxide emissions rates or alternatively mass-based targets for the power sector in each state, but it tasks state regulators with developing plans to meet the targets.

DOE's Role ‘Eviscerated.'

Democrats also are opposed to a provision led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and backed by groups such as the National Association of Home Builders and the American Gas Association that would limit the federal government's role in setting energy building codes.

The provision, which was stripped from an earlier version of the bill, “eviscerated DOE's historic role” in developing building codes by barring it from participating in steps related to their development, evaluation and adoption, Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington-based nonprofit, previously testified before the committee.

The provision also would weaken the certification process for state code submissions to the point where it would be “essentially an ‘automatic' certification by DOE regardless of whether or not efficiency criteria are met,” Callahan added.

Still Lack Agreement

“We still don’t have an agreement on some important provisions,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the committee's top Democrat told reporters. “We agreed we would only do the bill if we had agreement, and we still have work to do.”

While Republicans on the committee have the votes to pass the legislation, committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has sought bipartisan support for the legislation. This will likely be his last chance at a broad energy bill before he is required to give up the gavel at the end of this congressional session because of Republican rules limiting how long a single representative can serve as chair of a committee.

“The conundrum that Upton is facing is he has some red meat Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee,” an energy lobbyist tracking the bill told Bloomberg BNA. “Basically what it came down to is Upton could have a nothing burger bill that would result in a fight on the House floor over amendments. Upton clearly feels he’s got to wait until he’s got these negotiations completed.”

A committee spokesman said work on the bill was ongoing.

“Energy policy is complex and the committee remains committed to carefully balancing the needs of the members and issues involved,” Dan Schneider said in an e-mail. “We launched this process over a year ago and while we have made great strides we need a little more time as negotiations continue.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com