The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed its first bills of this Congress Wednesday in a glimmer of bipartisanship for a sharply divided Congress. When it was suggested that four hydropower bills and the Shaheen-Portman efficiency measure were merely the “low-hanging fruit” before the committee, ranking minority member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said, “And fine, let’s get some fruit.” After the vote, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) announced he would introduce legislation designed to boost residential efficiency and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said an upcoming subcommittee hearing would also focus on new efficiency ideas.
The Obama administration last week announced $200 million in funding for three new manufacturing innovation institutes in pursuit of more efficient processes and advanced technologies. One of the facilities, to be administered by Department of Energy, will focus on wide bandgap semiconductors, which could enable more compact and efficient electronics broadly applied across electric vehicles, power interconnection, smart grid and defense. Another facility, to be overseen by the Department of Defense, will focus on materials with advanced mechanical and electrical properties for applications such as wind turbine components and lighter, more efficient combat vehicles.
It appears the Obama administration might delay until this fall or even early 2014 its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Review of the project rests with the State Department, which is soliciting input from other federal agencies about whether the project is in the national interest. The EPA has questioned assumptions in the State Department’s environmental review, which could necessitate heightened involvement from the White House and further delay a decision. As if inter-agency disagreement wasn’t enough, the State Department has received over 1 million public comments on its environmental review.
The debate around Keystone XL could be further complicated by new EPA leadership, if the Administration’s nominee ever gets a confirmation vote. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is fighting to hold a committee vote on Gina McCarthy this week with or without her Republican colleagues. Despite McCarthy’s bipartisan résumé and acceptance by Senators of all stripes, Republican committee members boycotted a vote last Thursday in protest of what they consider insufficient response to over a thousand questions and information requests regarding agency policies. We’re still waiting for the Senate to confirm Ernest Moniz as DOE Secretary, though a vote is expected as early as today, now that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has dropped his hold, citing “good collaborations” with the White House on the fate of a nuclear fuel program in his district. “I’ve got their attention and we will see where this goes,” said Graham.