As President Barack Obama returns to Africa this week, his signature program to help the continent double its access to electricity is in jeopardy, undermined by Congress’ refusal to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. Of the $7 billion that Obama set aside for Power Africa, $5 billion fell under the auspices of the now-defunct bank, which guarantees loans to foreign companies buying U.S.-made products. But out of that $5 billion, just $132 million in transactions had been approved before the bank’s charter expired last month, rendering it unable to approve new transactions. Although the bank says it had several billion dollars of Power Africa projects in the pipeline, none of them can proceed unless lawmakers revive the bank.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this afternoon will introduce its long-awaited bipartisan energy package, with two markups slated to kick off next week. The “Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015” marks the first aisle-crossing effort in years to break through a legislative stalemate on energy policy. It has a heavy emphasis on modernizing energy infrastructure, encouraging efficiency, and increasing supplies of renewables and traditional energy sources, while also looking to boost the security of the electric grid from cyberattacks.
Republican lawmakers have included dozens of environmental policy riders in their 2016 spending bills, setting up a major clash with Democrats and the White House as lawmakers seek to hammer out a deal to fund the government. While most of the policy riders likely will never become law, some could be bargaining chips for President Obama and Democrats in their pleas for the GOP to raise discretionary spending levels. Republicans now have control of both chambers, giving them increased leverage to challenge the administration’s efforts to confront climate change, protect waterways and conserve imperiled wildlife.
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee unanimously approved a comprehensive energy bill today, making clear the stripped-down measure will serve as a vehicle for policy riders down the road. In a voice vote, the Energy and Power Subcommittee advanced the legislation that its sponsors say would modernize energy infrastructure, boost energy jobs, and address security, diplomacy, efficiency and accountability.
Out is New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich’s proposal to give FERC backstop authority to approve projects that face state-level delays, as well as Arkansas Republican John Boozman’s bill to limit federal eminent domain authority. Whereas Heinrich is from a state seeking to fast-track long-distance transmission to tap isolated pockets of wind and solar, Arkansas has shown a reluctance to accept the government blessing lines that don’t have state consent.
But when it comes to low-carbon energy, Levi said, “The oil price drop is not nearly as bad for renewable energy as people imagine at first glance. But that doesn’t mean it’s totally disconnected.” He said the big wild card is if renewable energy policies weaken in the face of dipping prices. “Even if it is unjustified, lower oil prices tend to make people less interested in energy policy in general, and that includes climate policy,” he said.
For years, clean energy developers could look to only a small handful of corporations as project partners or customers for their power. Mostly, there was Google, and a few other high-tech companies that worked directly with wind and solar developers to help green their energy use. Now, that appears to be changing. On Tuesday, Hewlett-Packard announced a 12-year contract to buy 112 megawatts from a wind farm that SunEdison is expanding in Texas. That is enough, HP said, to operate its data centers there, the equivalent of powering 42,600 homes each year.
Businesses big and small would get to keep claiming dozens of tax breaks that expired at the start of the year under a bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday. Struggling homeowners and people who live in states without a state income tax would get to keep their tax breaks, too. The bill would extend more than 50 tax credits, exemptions and deductions through 2016, beyond the upcoming presidential election. It would add $95 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which provides official estimates for Congress.
The Senate Finance Committee voted today to grant a reprieve to an assortment of expired energy tax credits, after wind opponents withdrew amendments targeting the renewable production tax credit. On a 23-3 vote, senators approved the extenders package, which revives 52 on-again, off-again tax breaks for two years. Sens. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) were the lone votes in opposition. Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) opened the markup by urging his colleagues to focus on “relatively noncontroversial changes to recently expired tax provisions and the offsets needed for these changes.”
The Senate panel’s markup yesterday of a two-year extenders package for 52 tax breaks came months earlier than the usual, end-of-year debate over expiring subsidies. Last year, Congress waited until December to pass retroactive extensions of wind and solar tax credits that expired at the end of 2013, passing a retroactive one year extension that expired a few weeks later with the start of the new year. But, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) signaled yesterday that the lower chamber is no hurry to roll out similar legislation, citing the House Republican caucus’ desire to advance a bill that includes permanent tax extensions.