- The U.S. House and Senate will convene a rare conference committee on energy policy after the lower chamber voted this week to enter the joint negotiations to reconcile differences between competing proposals passed by both sets of lawmakers.
- The House approved its revised energy package in a 241-178 vote Thursday, moving it toward the conference. There are signifcant differences remaining between S. 2012, the Senate's Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, and the House's version, H.R. 8, which garnered a veto threat from the White House.
- House Democrats largely opposed the bill, which E&E Daily noted doesn't bode well for the legislation's future. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hoped that conference committee could complete its work before the August recess, but it appears a lengthy process may lie ahead.
It appears it's going to be a rocky road to President Obama's desk for Congressional energy legislation as a conference committee is set up to reconcile two competing bills .
"This has been a multiyear, multi-Congress effort, and a lot of work has gone into making sure the bill we put forward to support the future of American energy is truly comprehensive," Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said of the House's version, according to E&E.
Though eight Democrats broke rank and voted for the House version, the party's overall lack of support could jeopardize both bills in conference. Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who worked closely with Murkowski to push the Senate version, said she's not prepared to support going to the conference, citing the multiple veto threats levied at the House version.
Utility Dive earlier reported on the two bills' provisions. The House version increases emphasis provides funding for grid infrastructure and looks to streamline siting and approvals for the production and export of liquefied natural gas and other fossil fuels.
But Democrats in the House said the bill was "backward looking," the Hill reports, and doesn't deal much with modernization.
“A comprehensive energy bill would need to modernize the nation’s aging energy infrastructure, train a 21st century workforce and address the critically important issue of man-made climate change," said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) who is on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy and power subpanel. "Unfortunately ... none of these issues are addressed in the bill."
Even once a conference is convened, it's not clear how much work lies ahead. The House and Senate bill outlines are similar, but there are real differences in their provisions. The White House has gone so far as to announce a likely veto of the House version, saying it “would undermine already successful initiatives," and specifying energy efficiency measures and reforms to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission targeted by GOP lawmakers.
The Senate's infrastructure title, conversely, holds provisions to modernize the grid, improve cybersecurity, maintain the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and grow a stronger energy sector workforce. Like H.R. 8, the infrastructure title streamlines natural gas export projects. But the House bill limits reviews to 30 days while the Senate bill limits them to 45 days.
In an election year, showing that Congress can negotiate to pass major legislation could be beneficial to both parties, Chris Mele, legislative director for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) told Utility Dive earlier this month. But even that incentive is no guarantee of a smooth conference committee.