Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) yesterday introduced a new version of their Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 (known as the Shaheen-Portman bill). The most significant change from the previous version is elimination of the “Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Financing Initiative,” a proposed grant program to support energy efficiency upgrades. The co-sponsors penned an op-ed over the weekend emphasizing that efficiency improvements to U.S. buildings alone could save $1 trillion over the next decade, and speaking to broad, bipartisan support for energy efficiency among businesses and in Washington. Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, on July 18 praised the bill, saying the President will give it his signature should it be approved by Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has expressed optimism that the Senate will take up the bill, if only briefly, in the days before the August recess. That will set the stage for debate when lawmakers return in September. Challenges facing the bill include the potential introduction of controversial amendments, such as for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) announced July 23 that he may propose an amendment to approving the pipeline project when Shaheen-Portman is considered on the Senate floor, though added he would not do so if a standalone vote is held on Keystone or if the administration promises to reach a decision by the end of August. In an interview last week, President Obama questioned arguments for approving Keystone based on job-creation potential, saying that initial construction jobs would likely dwindle to “somewhere between 50 and 100 permanent jobs, in an economy of 150 million working people.”
The President also gave a major speech in Chattanooga yesterday, touching on a variety of opportunities for economic growth, including accelerating investment in innovative energy technologies and a proposal to simplify the corporate tax code. The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure held a hearing this afternoon to discuss how various approaches to tax reform would affect energy companies. Meanwhile, the “blank slate” approach to tax reform proposed by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) hit a speed bump when committee members balked at making public their preferences for tax deductions to be retained and jettisoned, so committee leadership promised to keep the proposals under lock and key until 2065.
The Department of Interior yesterday held its first offshore wind lease sale, making 164,750 acres off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts available. On September 4, it will offer nearly 112,800 acresoff the Virginia coast through an identical lease auction. On a related note, Senators Portman and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on Monday introduced the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, legislation designed to streamline the federal permitting process for major energy and infrastructure projects, including commercial offshore wind projects. Under the bill, projects requiring an initial investment of more than $25 million and needing federal authorization would go before a new interagency council rather than cycle through duplicative agency reviews, as has been one criticism of the current permitting regime. The bill also proposes a drastic reduction in the statute of limitations for challenging a project’s environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, from six years to 150 days.
On July 23, The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies approved a $24.3 billion FY 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, which cuts funding to the EPA by 34 percent from FY 2013 levels. The full committee is expected to consider the bill this week. Meanwhile, 104 days after her nomination, Gina McCarthy was confirmed to serve as the agency’s Administrator, marking the longest confirmation process for a nominee to this position. She gave a speech at Harvard Law School Tuesday, where she declared her intention to “reinvent how we view the business of climate change.”
“For too long we have been focused on a false choice: between the health of our children and the health of our economy – and we have endlessly debated that choice even in the face of 43 years of documented history that proved that it just ain’t so,” said McCarthy. “Today, the truth we need to embrace is that cutting carbon pollution will spark business innovation, will grow jobs, and will strengthen the economy.”
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