Dems file hot-button amendments to pending House energy bill
Written byNICK JULIANO, E&E
House Democrats are aiming to force votes on renewable energy mandates, limits on petroleum exports, tax breaks for oil companies and speculation in energy markets when a GOP-backed energy package hits the floor later this week.
Democrats submitted 18 amendments -- the bulk of 24 amendments filed with the House Rules Committee by yesterday's deadline. The committee will set a rule for floor debate and determine which amendments will be voted on at a meeting this afternoon.
While the underlying bill, dubbed the "Domestic Energy and Jobs Act" by House leadership, has no chance of becoming law this year, the floor debate set to kick off tomorrow may offer both parties a chance to hone their election-year messages around energy policy.
The underlying bill aims to delay U.S. EPA rules that affect refineries, undo Bureau of Land Management reforms that Republicans say have slowed oil and gas drilling on federal property, and require expanded drilling if emergency oil reserves are tapped, among other provisions aimed at boosting energy development. House Republicans say the bill would create jobs in the energy sector and help bring down gasoline prices (E&E Daily, June 18).
Democrats, meanwhile, want to use this week's debate to highlight disagreements with the GOP over promoting renewable energy, exporting domestic petroleum products, limiting speculation in oil markets and enacting regulations aimed at protecting public health, judging by the amendments filed yesterday.
Among the amendments submitted is one from Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that would establish a nationwide renewable energy and efficiency standard requiring utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewables and efficiency by 2020 and 50 percent by 2035.
Renewable and efficiency mandates have received relatively little attention in the House this session, although the idea has seen a bit of life in the upper chamber. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) earlier this year floated a "clean energy standard" that would require more than 80 percent of electricity generation by 2035 come from low-carbon sources, including renewables, nuclear or natural gas. The bill, which is modeled on a similar proposal from President Obama, is not expected to pass this year but is meant to lay the groundwork for future discussions, Bingaman says.
Markey also offered an amendment that would prohibit the export of oil and natural gas produced under new leases authorized by the bill. Trying to prevent exports of domestically produced fossil fuels has been a favorite target for Markey and other House Democrats, mostly in the context of the broader debate around the Keystone XL oil pipeline. However, pushing for such restrictions creates something of a tricky conflict with the administration's broader goal of promoting export growth (E&E Daily, April 16).
Another amendment from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and other Democrats would require that $128 million received from new oil and gas leases be given to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to limit speculation in energy markets. That sum would give the commission the full $308 million requested by the Obama administration in its fiscal 2013 budget on top of the $180 million that House appropriators set aside for CFTC in a pending spending bill (E&E Daily, June 18).
Subsidies for fossil fuel development also are targeted in the amendments offered yesterday. Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) offered separate amendments aimed at reducing such subsidies to control the deficit.
Republicans were not immune from temptations to use the bill as a vehicle for their own energy priorities. Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) filed an amendment that would increase the cap on revenue sharing between the federal government and Gulf Coast states in 2023 from $500 million to $750 million. And Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) filed an amendment that would authorize EPA to waive boutique fuel requirements under certain situations related to lack of refining capacity.
A bipartisan pair of lawmakers, Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), want to use the energy package as a vehicle for separate efficiency legislation they have introduced. The pair offered an amendment that would attach H.R. 4230, a revamped Home Star bill aimed at offering support for homeowners interested in performing efficiency retrofits. The revamped bill, known as the "HOMES Act," would provide tax credits to offset the cost of the improvements and carries a lower price tag than the similar bill that stalled in the last session of Congress (Greenwire, March 21).
Several pending amendments also target specific provisions of the underlying energy bill, which comprises seven pieces of legislation that previously passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Natural Resources Committee.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has filed an amendment that would highlight Democrats' defense of EPA regulations as vital to protecting public health. His measure would prevent the delay of any rules controlling pollution that contributes to "asthma attacks, acute and chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, cancer, birth defects, neurological damage, premature death, or other serious harms to human health."
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) filed a copy of an amendment he was unable to offer during committee markup because of jurisdictional issues. The amendment aims at a provision requiring the president to open new federal lands and waters if the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is tapped; Bilbray's amendment would prevent drilling off the coast of California and other states that were not included in an earlier leasing plan without approval of the state's governor (E&E Daily, April 25).
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) offered a similar amendment that would bar drilling offshore from any state with a moratorium on such activities without approval from the state's governor.
Efforts to expand offshore drilling encountered some resistance from coastal state Republicans earlier this year (E&E Daily, Feb. 17). Observers say some of those same members may balk at this week's energy bill.
Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) also plans to re-offer an amendment that failed during committee markup. His amendment would eliminate a section of the bill requiring EPA to consider implementation costs before establishing National Ambient Air Quality Standards; critics of the provision say the Clean Air Act requires that those standards be based solely on public health considerations, and they say costs should not enter into the mix.
Green, whose district includes several refineries, said he supports efforts to delay regulations on the industry that are part of a bill from Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) included in the energy package, but he said the change to the air quality standards went too far.
"We could pass some things that would actually deal with domestic production without going overboard, and I think in this case going in and reworking EPA is not the way we need to do it," Green said in a brief interview yesterday.