Executive Summary on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Mark Up of the Bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015
Summary Provided By Emily Singer, Legislative Aide, HBW Resources
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held three mark up sessions on the Bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015. This bill is the first attempt to draft a bipartisan bill since 2007. The bill seeks to address challenges in the following six areas: energy storage, modernization of the grid, cyber security, energy workforce, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
A summary of each mark up session is discussed below.
Session 1 – July 28, 2015
Before considering the legislation, the Committee considered the nomination of Jonathan Elkind to be the Assistant Security of Energy (International Affairs). The nomination was confirmed with 17 affirmative votes. The 4 naysayers included Senator Lee (R-UT), Senator Daines (R-MT), Senator Risch (R-ID), and Senator Flake (R-AZ).
The Managers Cleared Amendments
The first item on the legislative agenda was discussion of the managers cleared amendments. This package included Alexander Amendment 2 on energy conservation standards for commercial refrigeration equipment; Flake Amendment 18 on the evaluation of potentially duplicative green building programs within the Department of Energy (DOE); Heinrich Amendment 38 on workforce and training programs for the energy sector; Stabenow Amendment 87 on voluntary verification programs for air conditioning, furnace, boiler, heat pump, and water products; the Joint Staff Amendment on biomass; and technical corrections for Section 4001, 4501, and Subtitle H. The package moved through with no discussion.
Offered and Withdrawn Amendments
Next, Members of the Committee were asked to offer and withdraw several amendments that were unlikely to receive bipartisan support or required more discussion. First, Senator Barrasso (R-WY) offered and withdrew Barrasso Amendment 9, which would reform the process by which DOE manages the public stockpile of excess uranium. Since 2009, DOE has violated federal law and its own written policy on managing the stockpile. As a result, Senator Barrasso contends it has failed to obtain a fair return for American taxpayers. The Amendment requires DOE to maximize the value of the public stockpile of excess uranium and also requires DOE to give the American public a say on how DOE will manage the excess uranium. Finally, the Amendment would codify DOE’s recent announcement that it will not transfer more than 21,000 metric tons of uranium in 2016. Senator Barrasso withdrew the Amendment with the understanding that Chairman Murkowski will work with him and the cosponsors to advance the legislation in the fall.
Senator Manchin (D-WV) next introduced Amendment 66 – the Energy Productivity and Innovation Challenge Act. The Amendment establishes a voluntary grant program for states to compete for funding, and it would provide states with effective resources to advance energy innovation. The Amendment was withdrawn without discussion.
Senator Capito (R-WV) next discussed S. 1210 – the Oil and Gas Production and Distribution Reform Act of 2015 – even though she did not intend to withdraw the bill. She said she was disappointed that the overall bill did not more thoroughly address the need to improve natural gas infrastructure. She also stated that the permitting process for interstate pipelines is growing very complex, time, consuming, and costly, and her amendment would address these issues. Chairman Murkowski agreed that both infrastructure and the permitting process are key issues for energy modernization; however, she said there were provisions in S. 1210 that need to be improved.
Next, Senator Cassidy (R-LA) and Senator Stabenow (D-MI) offered and withdrew their amendment that would modify the definition of a vehicle under the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program (ATVMP) at DOE. ATVMP is a loan program that distributes loans to manufactured vehicles with higher fuel efficiency. Yet, it has only issued one loan over the past 4 years while sitting on $16 billion in loan authority and over $4 billion in credit subsidies. The amendment would expand the loan program to include the manufacturing of U.S. flagged vessels and commercial trucks. Chairman Murkowski agreed with the overall goal of the amendment; however, she said the proposal as drafted would result in a direct spending score for the overall bill, and thus, needs to be improved.
Senator Risch (R-ID) and Senator Heinrich (D-NM) offered and withdrew Amendment 73 – the Public Land Renewable Energy Development. The Amendment regulates the development of renewable energy on public land, and it improves the incentives for competitive leasing on federal lands. Senator Risch admitted that the Amendment does need some work before it is included in the overall bill. Senator Heinrich said they intend to offer the Amendment on the Senate floor.
Next, Senator Portman (R-OH) introduced and withdrew Amendment 71 – the SAVE Act. The Amendment establishes a mortgage lending processes that allows federal mortgage loan agencies to consider a home’s energy efficiency and expected monthly energy bills when determining the homeowner’s ability to pay the monthly mortgage payment. Chairman Murkowski expressed concerns that this Amendment is not under the Committee’s jurisdiction because of the impact it would have on mortgages and the financial systems.
Senator Cassidy (R-LA) then introduced and withdrew Amendment 14, which changes DOE’s home efficiency payback span from 50 years to 10 years. Senator Cassidy contended that if paybacks are too long for energy efficiency improvements, individuals are not going to make those investments. Senator Cantwell (D-WA) agrees with the overall premise of the Amendment; however, she believes 10 years is an arbitrary number and needs to be reconsidered.
Senator King (I-ME) then postponed consideration of Amendments 47 and 53 to allow for technical corrections.
Finally, Senator Hoeven (R-ND) offered and withdrew his amendment entitled the North American Energy Infrastructure Act. This amendment addresses the cross-border pipeline decision-making process by requiring the Secretary of State to make a decision on the cross-border portion within 30 days after the NEPA process is complete. Senator King agreed that process itself should not be the barrier to cross-border energy transmission. He agreed to work with Senator Hoeven on this Amendment, and it will be introduced again later in the fall.
Offered and Debated Amendments with Votes
Next on the agenda was the opportunity for Members to offer and debate amendments. Three amendments were offered, and the Committee voted on each. Senator Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Stabenow (D-MI) offered the first amendment, which would reauthorize the Vehicle Technologies Office. Senator Alexander contended that the proper role of the federal government is research and development, and this amendment reauthorizes an existing program that conducts research and implements its findings. The amendment would repeal all duplicative research programs by consolidating the programs into one department. The amendment was agreed to with a vote of 20 to 2. The naysayers included Senator Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Lee (R-UT).
Senator Franken (D-MN) next offered Amendment 29, which establishes a national energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) to be administered by each state. An EERS establishes energy saving targets that electric and natural gas utilities must meet, with the target slowly rising over time. The utilities meet these targets by offering programs to help their customers save energy. Currently, 24 states have adopted such standards, and according to Senator Franken, they have proven to be very effective for energy savers. Senator Portman (R-OH) did not support the Amendment and contended that mandates prevent bipartisan support. Senator Murkowski also did not support the Amendment, fearing that a “one size fits all” approach would not work. She also argued that a national standard would upend the good work on energy efficiency coming out of the states. Finally, several Members expressed concerns about potentially penalizing the utilities sector for consumer energy consumption, which is something the utilities sector cannot control. The Amendment failed with a vote of 9 to 13. The naysayers included all Republican Members, along with Senator Manchin (D-WV).
Finally, Senator Barrasso (R-WY) offered Amendment 5, which would require that 50% of the Conservation Fund would go to the states. Today, only 40% of the funding goes to the states, which falls short of the 60% requirement found in the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF). Senator Manchin (D-WV) did not support the Amendment because there is currently bipartisan agreement on 40% and changing the number may disrupt the reauthorization of the LWCF. The Amendment failed with a vote of 7 to 15. The naysayers included all of the Democrat Members, along with Senator Daines (R-MT) and Senator Capito (R-WV).
This concluded the first session.
Session 2 – July 29, 2015
The second day of the mark up started with clearing the manager’s amendments, followed by debate and votes on seven other amendments.
The Managers Cleared Amendments
The first item on the agenda was discussion of a second round of managers cleared amendments. Senator Cantwell moved to approve the amendments on block. The package was moved through without discussion.
Offered and Debated Amendments with Votes
Next on the agenda was another opportunity for Members to offer and debate amendments. Senator Barrasso (R-WY) first offered Amendment 8, which requires federal agencies to complete the federal review process for helium related products on an expeditious basis. The Amendment further modifies the definition of a “helium related project” to mean “to explore crude helium or sell crude helium.” Senator Cantwell (D-WA) expressed concern that the project would affect an emergency spending provision. She requested that the Committee defer the vote on the Amendment until the following day. Chairman Murkowski agreed.
Senator Sanders (D-VT) offered Amendment 79 – the Low Income Solar Act of 2015. The Amendment provides grant money for low-income families and businesses to help them access solar energy. Chairman Murkowski expressed concern with how the loans would work and what type of precedent would be set if Congress implemented a resource specific loan program. Senator Hirono (D-HI) discussed how Hawaii recently implemented a similar program and how it has been successful at the state level. The Amendment failed with a vote of 9 to 13. The naysayers included all of the Republican Members, along with Senator Manchin (D-WV).
Next, Senator Flake (R-AZ) offered Amendment 24, which addressed critical electric infrastructure security. The Amendment adds language to the grid security provision in the overall bill to protect critical electric infrastructure from state and local sunshine laws. Senator Cantwell (D-WA) expressed concern with the Amendment preempting state laws on information disclosure. She suggested delaying a vote on the Amendment until the Committee fully understood its implications. Senator Flake contended that the Amendment is solely trying to prevent 50 different standards for disclosure of critical electric infrastructure information. The Amendment was agreed to via voice vote.
Senator King (I-ME) then offered Amendment 50, which requires an economic study before additional LNG exports are approved to preserve the advantage that the boom in LNG has brought to the U.S. Senator Barrasso (R-WY) argued that the Amendment would diminish the bipartisan effort the overall bill has gained, and it would grind the LNG permitting effort to a halt. Chairman Murkowski expressed concern that people could politicize these studies to cause export delays. The Amendment failed with a vote of 10-12. The naysayers included all of the Republican Members.
Senator Warren (D-MA) offered Amendment 90, which requires an economic study of the impact of exports in different regions of the country. The Amendment tasks DOE with studying export implications state by state, region by region, and the national implications. She insisted the Amendment would not slow down the permitting and export process. The Amendment was agreed to with a vote of 13-9. The naysayers included Senator Barrasso (R-WY), Senator Risch (R-ID), Senator Lee (R-UT), Senator Flake (R-AZ), Senator Daines (R-MT), Senator Cassidy (R-LA), Senator Gardner (R-CO), Senator Hoeven (R-ND), and Senator Capito (R-WV).
Next, Senator Sanders (D-VT) introduced Amendment 80, which recognizes that climate change is real, it has an impact, and that Congress hopes to change it in the future. Chairman Murkowski contended that the overall bill already has this included within its nature. The Amendment failed with a vote of 10 to 12. The naysayers included all of the Republican Members.
Finally, Senator Manchin offered Amendment 68, which repeals current coal related programs and replaces them with a coal program that is more efficient. The Amendment was adopted via voice vote.
This concluded the second session.
Session 3 – July 30, 2015
The third day of the mark up started with clearing the manager’s amendments, followed by debate and votes on other amendments.
The Managers Cleared Amendments
The first item on the agenda was discussion of a third round of managers cleared amendments. Senator Cantwell moved to approve the amendments on block. The package was moved through. Chairman Murkowski commented on Senator Cantwell’s (D-WA) amendment, which makes even more progress on fixing hydropower regulation. Senator Franken (D-MN) thanked the Chairman for including the Indian amendments into the package, and Senator Heinrich (D-NM) expressed the importance of the amendments on national labs.
Offered and Debated Amendments with Votes
Next on the agenda was another opportunity for Members to offer and debate amendments. First, Senator Stabenow (D-MI) offered Amendment 82, which puts a cap on ethane added to LNG exports. The Amendment also requires annual reporting on the total LNG exports from the U.S. Chairman Murkowski expressed concern with whether the overall bill gains anything from the Amendment because the U.S. already reports its exports of LNG. Senator Stabenow replied that the main focus of the Amendment is not the reporting measure; the main objective is to ensure the LNG mix is not changed once it is at the export terminal. The Amendment failed with a vote of 9 to 13. Naysayers included all of the Republican Members, along with Senator Heinrich (D-NM).
Senator Hoeven (R-ND) offered Amendment 41 – the Federal Mineral Spacing Amendment. The Amendment affects the permitting process for well development in situations where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owns a minority interest in mineral rights under a proposed well. Under this Amendment, a company that wants to drill the well does not have to go through a separate BLM permitting process on top of the state permitting process. Many Democrat Members, including Senator Manchin and Senator Cantwell, expressed concern with the Amendment, and Chairman Murkowski suggested that the Committee hold a hearing to better understand how BLM requirements limit access to resources. Before the vote, Senator Hoeven modified the Amendment. The voted upon Amendment provides that the Secretary of Interior can designate BLM to waive having duplicative permitting process if the Secretary so designates. The modified Amendment was agreed to via voice vote.
Senator Franken (D-MN) offered Amendment 30, which provides competitive grants to utilities for the purpose of implementing benchmarking and disclosure programs for commercial and multitenant buildings. Chairman Murkowski questioned why the federal government would help multitenant owners when the problem may be individual tenant behavior. She also expressed concern with the possibility of building owners discriminating against tenants. Finally, she contended that data collection for the building owners should be paid for by the building owners rather than by the taxpayers. The Amendment failed with a vote of 9 to 13. The naysayers included all Republican Members, along with Senator Manchin (D-WV).
Finally, Senator Franken (D-MN) offered Amendment 27, which provides for a coordinated federal response to emergencies at coal power plants. The Amendment calls upon DOE to coordinate the appropriate stakeholders when a fuel crisis is triggered. There are no mandates in the Amendment. The Amendment failed with a vote of 9 to 13. The naysayers included all of the Republican Members, along with Senator Sanders (D-VT).
This concluded the third round of votes on offered amendments. The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 was approved by a vote of 18 to 4.
Short List Items
Following the vote on the overall bill, the Committee voted on several short list items. In particular, the Committee voted on the Offshore Production and Energizing National Security Act of 2015 (OPENS Act). The OPENS Act expands access in areas currently closed off to energy development on the outer continental shelf (OCS), including areas in Gulf of Mexico, Alaska OCS, and in the South Atlantic. The OPENS Act also reverses the ban on U.S. crude oil exports. Democrats expressed concerns with the effects crude oil exports may have on the price of oil for domestic consumers. They also expressed concerns with funding for the bill and whether it conflicts with funding for LWCF. Senator Hoeven (D-ND) urged the Committee to move the bill forward so that the Senate can have the debate on the Senate floor. The bill was moved forward with a vote of 12 to 10. The naysayers included all Democrat Members.
Senator Cantwell then moved for the remaining short list items to be voted on block. The remaining items were agreed to via voice vote.