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Energy: Climate Talk Thwarts Progress

by Jeff Johnson
January 27, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 4

Mirroring last year, energy-related legislation will face a steep climb in 2014. In the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, energy bills may pass, but they are unlikely to be taken up in the Senate. The House legislation will likely not plow new ground, but rather aim to roll back previously enacted laws and regulations. In the more closely divided Senate, simply marshaling enough agreement and votes to pass energy-related bills will be difficult, particularly as time moves closer to the November elections.

A top energy priority in the House will be legislative efforts to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new coal- and gas-fired power plants. EPA’s proposal is extremely unpopular with coal-state members of Congress, even though it is limited. The proposal does not cover existing power plants; new natural gas plants can comply by doing nothing; and although new coal-fired plants will have to find a way to partially limit CO2 emissions, compliance is stretched out for seven years through an emissions-average scheme.

The House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy & Power, led by Chairman Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.), cleared a bill (H.R. 3826) on Jan. 14 that would stop EPA from enacting the power plant proposal. Passage by the full House is likely this year. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Joseph Manchin III (D-W.Va.), but the measure is unlikely to pass the Senate.

Although such legislation would be a direct attack on President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, there are efforts in the Senate to advance the plan. Led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing this month where federal agencies explained their efforts to meet greenhouse gas reductions under Obama’s climate plan.

Boxer is one of several Senate Democrats who are attempting to fire up interest in climate-change and greenhouse-gas-emissions reductions. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Boxer this month announced the formation of a Senate climate task force made up of a handful of Senate Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has backed these efforts, but legislation is highly unlikely because of deep divisions within the Senate, staff say.

In other energy areas, the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee is expected to look into nuclear waste issues in an attempt to develop a new scheme to address radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. In addition, a sharp debate is expected in this committee over removal of limitations in place since the mid-1970s that block the export of U.S. crude oil. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), other oil-state senators, and the oil industry are pushing to end the export ban, arguing that the flood of new U.S. oil resources makes the export ban unnecessary and costly to industry.


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