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Energy and Congress

This legislation has pitted the Obama administration which asserts that it needs to continue its research on this issue, the Republican Congress that sees this bill as its flag-ship energy issue, and the environmental community that sees Keystone as the embodiment of ignoring climate change and cleaner energy resources in favor of fossil fuel production.

The 114th Congress has its heart set to vote on S. 1, legislation that would approve construction of the Keystone pipeline that would connect tar sands in Canada with U.S. oil refiners.  This legislation has pitted the Obama administration which asserts that it needs to continue its research on this issue, the Republican Congress that sees this bill as its flag-ship energy issue, and the environmental community that sees Keystone as the embodiment of ignoring climate change and cleaner energy resources in favor of fossil fuel production.

The fight has waged for five years while Congress has simultaneously tried, and failed, to pass comprehensive energy legislation.  The last comprehensive energy package passed in 2007, on the heels of the landmark 2005 Energy Policy Act. Both bills were packed with energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy production.  There was something for everyone and the authorizations cost billions of dollars.  What happened?

In part, the historic lack of compromise in the 112th and 113th Congress has caused  energy policy to stagnate and resulted in the fewest laws enacted since the 1940s.  Key to the compromise issue was the constrained size of the pie – the requirement that authorizations  need a spending off-set., That led to fighting over scraps of offsets and the complete elimination of consideration of any large meaningful energy investment.  Clean energy and emerging technologies, which need infrastructure investment and incentives to advance market penetration, saw little time on the House or Senate Floor while debate raged over energy efficiency legislation introduced by Sens Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that was forced to strip items at every turn due to cost concerns. 

What were the provisions stripped from Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill?  They included financing opportunities for green buildings, increased goals for federal facilities, competitive grant programs to states to advance energy savings, and utility energy efficiency standards. 

Unlike the 112th and 113th Congresses, the 114th Congress maintains a Republican majority in both chambers with the Senate charged with changing the tune of Congress and sending more legislation to the president’s desk.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to allow more amendments on the floor – including on the Keystone oil-pipeline. But time will tell if the changes in the Senate will lead to more opportunities to advance comprehensive energy legislation, or if the dialogue will be further constricted with more legislation receiving the President’s veto in lieu of his signature.

Kara Saul Rinaldi is president & CEO at AnnDyl Policy Group.

 

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