Members of Congress and the energy sector are spending the days leading up to Christmas hoping that President Donald Trump does not make the massive COVID-19 relief and government funding bill crumble with late objections and changes.
Trump stunned Republicans who had negotiated elements of the package with a video posted on Twitter late December 22, criticizing various elements of the legislation. In the video, Trump does not threaten to veto the bill, but urges Congress to increase COVID-19 relief payments and minimize spending on foreign nations.
As Trump flew to Florida late in the day December 23 and Democrats urged Republicans to increase relief payments to $2,000 from the $600 that was negotiated, Republicans were scrambling to figure out a way to keep the government funding plan and legislation intact and signed by Trump before a temporary government funding measure expires December 28.
The legislation had not been sent to the White House as of December 24, and negotiations were expected to take place over a holiday break and before Congress is scheduled to adjourn in early January.
Like Christmas shoppers that wait until the last minute, Congress procured a lot of energy measures to try and placate different constituencies in the COVID-19 relief and government funding bill that was passed late December 21.
Some late negotiations produced a bipartisan package that gained positive reactions from clean energy advocates, fossil fuel groups and many others. Those that issued statements praising congressional leaders who marshalled the legislation to approval include the American Gas Association (AGA), American Council on Renewable Energy, American Petroleum Institute, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), American Clean Power Association, environmental groups and more.
Various elements of the massive bill address: reauthorizing pipeline safety legislation; extending tax credits for wind and solar power resources; funding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); improving energy efficiency and weatherization efforts within the Department of Energy; accelerating advanced nuclear reactors; boosting plans for carbon capture, usage and sequestration facilities; enhancing energy storage and microgrid efforts and phasing down use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
Groups that sought many provisions to address climate change said the legislation represents a step in the right direction by enabling technologies that will aid the move towards decarbonization of the U.S. economy.
The energy provisions in the legislation “make long-overdue reforms and authorize sweeping investments that will help transition the country to a clean, low-carbon future,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who chairs the Energy Subcommittee.
A summary of the measure from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee notes that it includes authority for FERC to modify compensation for staff to attract and retain individuals with highly specialized skillsets. When FERC examination of LNG export projects had bogged down with a wave of applications, FERC leaders noted that engineers specializing in LNG facilities were hard to come by, and make much more money in the private sector.
At nearly 5,600 pages, a list of provisions that didn’t make it in the bill may be shorter than what is included, but one item that is not is language to change building energy codes to ban natural gas. That language was “a misguided effort to reduce emissions that would result in crippling energy costs,” AGA said in its statement. The building energy code language was opposed by AGA and a coalition of businesses that rely on natural gas, AGA said.
INGAA and others touted inclusion of the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act (PIPES Act) in the legislative package, noting that it strengthens programs at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration within the Department of Transportation. INGAA President and CEO Amy Andryszak applauded “the collaborative, bipartisan, bicameral work that got us here today” and said the legislation “is the result of years of effort on both sides of the aisle to provide PHMSA with the necessary resources to continue its important work overseeing our nation’s pipeline infrastructure.”
Key energy and environmental committee members from the House of Representatives and Senate commented on the measure. In a joint statement from Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, respectively, they note that the bill features consensus provisions from their American Energy Innovation Act and the House’s Clean Economy Innovation and Jobs Act. “It stands to become the first comprehensive modernization of our nation’s energy policies in 13 years,” Murkowski said.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate also touted different elements of the measure. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who is retiring and leaves as ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released a joint statement with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who will be filling that role.
“While we hoped some of these compromises could have happened earlier this Congress, we thank House Democrats for coming to the table and working with us to find policy solutions that will improve the lives of the American people during COVID-19 and help our nation restore, rebuild, and renew the American Dream. This package is not perfect, but there are certainly several bipartisan wins that should be celebrated,” Walden and Rodgers said.
By Tom Tiernan email@example.com