Congress returns to tackle efficiency, tax credits, water law and appropriations

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 28, 2014

Lawmakers return to the Capitol today for a marathon session that could see Senate action on energy efficiency legislation and clean power tax credits alongside continued appropriations work in both chambers, potential enactment of a new water infrastructure law and plenty of opportunities for political point-scoring as November looms in members’ minds.

Relatively few marquee items are on the agenda in the coming days for energy and environmental policy watchers, but action is likely to heat up toward the end of this week or early next week in the Senate. The upper chamber is expected to focus first on legislation to increase the minimum wage — bolstering majority Democrats’ election-year messaging — but next in line could be the bipartisan energy bill Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have been pushing for years.Negotiations continue over how to bring that bill to the floor, including what amendments could be offered, but Republicans are expected to use the opportunity to push for controversial votes on the Keystone XL pipeline and other contentious issues, potentially imperiling the underlying bill (Greenwire, April 24).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also said he wants to use this work period to pass a “tax extenders” bill to renew dozens of expired tax breaks, including the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) and several other energy-related incentives. Enacting such a bill is a top priority for Reid and new Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has said the breaks should be extended one last time before turning to comprehensive tax reform.

Wyden’s bill would extend most of the 50 or so extenders for two years, but House Republicans are pursuing a narrower approach — trying to identify a much smaller number to make permanent, such as the research and development tax credit. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has proposed eliminating the PTC, and it has encountered much more resistance this year than previous times it was extended, despite still enjoying some bipartisan support.

Conservative groups are keeping their knives sharp with more than two dozen organizations, including Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy Alliance, sending Camp a letter last week urging him not to extend the credit.

In a memo to House Republicans, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last week outlined the spring agenda, including a vote on a permanent R&D tax credit next month.

Cantor’s memo touted bills that passed the House earlier this year aimed at energy and environmental reforms, such as a propane transportation bill that was signed into law last month and a measure requiring regulatory agencies to consider job impacts when writing rules. But he offered no significant efforts on those fronts planned for the coming work period.

One bill that received quite a bit of attention before the recess was Rep. Cory Gardner’s (R-Colo.) bill to expedite liquefied natural gas exports to potentially dozens of countries. The Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to pass the bill (H.R. 6) this week, but it was not mentioned in Cantor’s memo. A spokesman for the majority leader did not respond to a request for comment on its floor prospects.

Gardner introduced the bill amid tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which is among the largest suppliers of natural gas to its neighbors. With the crisis there showing no signs of abating, lawmakers are likely to continue to focus on how the U.S. energy boom can influence the situation.

The House does plan to begin moving appropriations bills this month, the earliest start in 40 years, Cantor wrote. First up are bills to fund military construction/veterans affairs and the legislative branch. After that will be the commerce, justice and science appropriations bill, which funds the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other agencies. Spending bills for energy, environmental and Interior agencies aren’t expected until after Memorial Day (E&E Daily, April 11).

The House and Senate also may soon enact a reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act, versions of which have already passed both chambers. Conference negotiations continue, and a Senate aide said it would likely move quickly if an agreement can be reached. Cantor’s memo similarly promised it would be considered “promptly” following a resolution to the negotiations.