Upton Eyes the ‘Architecture of Abundance’ for Energy

Posted December 2, 2014 at 7:40am

The following is a special report, which CQ Roll Call subscribers received last week.

After peeking inside Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s, R-Alaska, energy manifesto Monday for clues on how she’ll run the Energy and Natural Resources Committee next year, we turn today to the corresponding plan by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.

Upton’s “Architecture of Abundance,” unveiled in a July speech, takes critical aim at “policies rooted in the old ideas of energy scarcity” to reflect the rapidly changing energy dynamics of the past several years.

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

That’s a sentiment expressed on both sides of the Capitol, where lawmakers from both parties have called for addressing issues associated with the fracking boom, including environmental concerns, infrastructure, and exports, to name a few.

Upton’s plan showcases the committee’s legislative work in the 113th Congress, in contrast to Murkowski’s proposal revealing a detailed look at her own thinking. The contrast reflects Murkowski’s time spent in the minority doing her homework and Upton’s having the luxury of legislating for the four years he’s been atop the powerful Energy and Commerce panel.

Upton’s committee has carefully laid the groundwork for a multitude of energy bills that have passed the House through regular order. As a result, the committee will be set to hit the ground running at the outset of the new Congress.

Remember that Upton, with the help of Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Edward Whitfield, R-Ky., and Environment and the Economy Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., has conducted a great deal of oversight during his tenure. Those efforts, which will be amplified through coordination with Senate GOP counterparts over the next two years, will also help shape policy.

House Republicans’ energy bills will find a much friendlier reception in a GOP-led Senate in the next two years than they found in the Democratic Senate for the last four years. The result may be less emphasis on sending message bills across the Capitol and more focus on finding areas of agreement with some Democrats, and even the White House, that could actually move energy legislation across the finish line.

Enacting an energy bill may be a heavy lift in the current political climate, but recall that a Democratic House and Senate overcame stark policy differences with President George W. Bush in 2007 to negotiate the last major energy law, the Energy Independence and Security Act (PL 110-140).

Upton’s plan is based upon five “pillars,” all of which have sparked bipartisan interest: modernizing infrastructure, maintaining diverse electricity sources; boosting U.S. manufacturing by overhauling federal permitting processes; energy efficiency and innovation; and “unleashing energy diplomacy.” Bipartisan efforts to legislate in these areas could lead to surprise breakthroughs on energy.

There’s little detail about the pillars themselves, but let’s take a quick look at the bills cited:

Pillar I: Modernizing Infrastructure. Topping the list here is a bill (HR 3) to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The House has passed multiple Keystone measures. The current Senate lacks the votes to do the same. Republicans will try again early in the 114th Congress, which, as we’ve reported, raises questions about how to get such a bill past a veto.

Next is Upton’s bill (HR 3301), co-sponsored with Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, which is intended to prevent delays for Keystone-like pipelines by giving the executive branch deadlines to rule on cross-border energy infrastructure projects. The notion of limiting the approval process holds bipartisan appeal, although the White House threatened to veto the measure earlier this year, citing in part the deadlines it would impose on regulators.

The White House also threatened to veto another House-passed bill (HR 1900), intended to speed up review of natural-gas pipelines. The veto threat notwithstanding, the need for more pipelines to address flaring and increase deliveries is a concern shared by both parties and will be revisited in the 114th Congress.

Pillar II: Maintaining Diverse Electricity Generation. The marquee bill for this pillar is Whitfield’s bill (HR 3826) to restrain EPA regulation of greenhouse gases from power plants by requiring technology that isn’t widely used commercially, as in carbon capture and storage. This legislation also boasts bipartisan support. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., is the sponsor of a Senate companion. But the administration has made clear it’s a nonstarter. Adding the measure to an appropriations bill may provoke a veto showdown and industry officials say more narrow provisions targeting EPA’s climate rules may be a more effective strategy.

To maintain diversity in electricity generation, Upton also cites a House-passed bill (HR 2218) that would ensure states play the lead role in regulating coal ash from power plants. The White House stopped short of threatening a veto when the measure passed the House more than a year ago, suggesting a legislative compromise was possible. But EPA is less than a month away from finalizing a rule and the dynamics surrounding coal ash disposal remain fluid. As we reported last week (subscription), EPA and congressional Republicans are still talking about a coal ash legislation.

Pillar III: Permitting a Manufacturing Renaissance. Cloaked as an effort to boost manufacturing, this bill (HR 4795) would make sweeping changes to the process for setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards under the Clean Air Act. It’s a safe bet that Republicans will offer a multitude of legislative fixes targeting the NAAQS process over the next two years, but the White House is unlikely to retreat from its veto threat.

Pillar IV: Harnessing Energy Efficiency and Innovation. Efficiency is probably the area that holds the most potential for agreement in the energy arena in the next few years. Upton’s plan includes several bills that mirror provisions of the efficiency bill (S 2262) sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Remember that the hurdles that have stalled the Senate bill are political, rather than substantive, and Portman said recently he’ll press for quick action in the next Congress if an agreement can’t be struck in the lame-duck session for a vote.

Pillar V: Unleashing Energy Exports. Energy exports will continue to be a leading source of debate in the next two years. House Republicans have already put points on the board with passage this summer of a bill (HR 6) intended to expedite the application process for liquefied natural gas exports. The White House declined to weigh in on the bill when it came up for a floor vote, leaving the door open for discussions. The bill that passed the House was significantly stripped down from what was introduced. And Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz recently signaled the administration may be open to deadlines such as the one in HR 6.

The big question mark is what the House does on crude oil exports. Former Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, raised eyebrows a few months ago when he predicted that Republicans would vote to repeal the export ban next year, but other GOP members have suggested they’ll move more cautiously on the matter before offering a bill.