Legislative Activity

House-Passed Budget Agreement Includes Energy Policy Provisions

Last Thursday, December 12, members of the U.S. House voted 332-94 to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, a budget resolution offered as an amendment to H.J. Res. 59 that sets short-term funding caps for the FY 2014 and FY 2015 years and longer-term projections until FY 2023. The legislation sets discretionary spending for the remainder of FY 2014 at $1.012 trillion, and $1.014 trillion in FY 2015. These levels are higher than the budget targets under current law established by the Budget Control Act, and will effectively raise discretionary spending during that time by $48 billion. The legislation also includes a number of energy and natural resource provisions. Chiefly, the bill provides for implementation of the U.S-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement reached between the U.S. and Mexico that will allow for hydrocarbon development in the Gulf of Mexico. That provision does not include a rider sought by Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee during consideration of stand-alone legislation to implement the agreement. That rider would have made the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act provision requiring publicly traded companies to disclose payments made to foreign officials connected to international oil, gas and mineral development projects with the Securities and Exchange Commission inapplicable to projects subject to the agreement.

House Energy Committee Holds NRC Oversight Hearing

Last Thursday, December 12, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a legislative hearing to consider H.R. 3132, the “Nuclear Regulatory Commission Reorganization Plan Codification and Complements Act.” All five members of the NRC testified.  During the hearing, members pressed the commissioners for their opinion regarding the need for reform of the NRC’s operating procedures, and requested detailed information regarding the Commission’s plans for moving forward with the Yucca Mountain safety review, among other issues. Chairman MacFarlane addressed these issues in her remarks, where she noted that the Commission is “functioning well” and that the agency’s internal procedures do not require intervention by Congress – particularly given the NRC’s recent revision to its internal procedures.

Senators Introduce Legislation to Strike the Corn Ethanol RFS Mandate

Last Thursday, December 12, eight senators led by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced S. 1807, the “Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2013.” The legislation seeks to eliminate the renewable fuel mandate for corn ethanol under the Clean Air Act while leaving in place other renewable fuel mandates for advanced biofuels. In a statement announcing introduction of the legislation, Sen. Feinstein said: “I strongly support requiring a shift to low-carbon advanced biofuel, including biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol and other revolutionary fuels. But a corn ethanol mandate is simply bad policy.”

 This Week’s Hearings

  • Tuesday, December 17: the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a business meeting in executive session to vote on pending nominations for key positions at the Department of Energy (DOE). The nominees will include Mr. Christopher A. Smith to serve as Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy and Mr. Steven P. Croley to serve as General Counsel for the Department of Energy. The Committee will also hold a hearing to consider pending nominations for Ms. Janice M. Schneider to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, Mr. Neil Kornze to serve as Director of the Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior, Dr. Marc A. Kastner to serve as Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, and Dr. Ellen D. Williams to serve as Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Department of Energy.
  • Thursday, December 19: the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a business meeting to consider S.1491, “a bill to amend the Energy Independence an Security Act of 2007 to improve United States-Israel energy cooperation,” in addition to a number of bills that are not related to energy policy.

Regulatory Activity

Department of Energy Releases Loan Guarantee Solicitation

Last Thursday, December 12, the Department of Energy released a final loan guarantee solicitation that makes $8 billion available for investment in next-generation fossil energy projects designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The funding implicated in the loan guarantee program is authorized under Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The solicitation expands the eligibility requirements under the program to applicants that wish to invest in projects that use “advanced fossil energy technology,” as that term is defined in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

NRC Staff Publishes Safety Recommendations

Last Thursday, December 12, staff for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission published a report containing three recommendations meant to improve U.S. nuclear safety in the wake of the Fukishima nuclear disaster. In the report, the staff recommends generally that the NRC: (1) “establish a design-basis extension of events and requirements for internal NRC guidance, policies and procedures”; (2) “Establish Commission expectations for defense-in-depth through the development of a policy statement”; and (3) “Clarify the role of voluntary industry initiatives in the NRC regulatory process.”