Senate passes broad energy infrastructure modernization bill

In an 85-12 vote Wednesday, the Senate approved “its first ambitious energy bill in a decade,” the AP reports.

The “far-reaching” measure “reflects significant changes in US oil and natural gas production over the past decade and boosts alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.” In addition, it would “speed federal approval of projects to export liquefied natural gas to Europe and Asia.” The measure must be reconciled with a version passed by the House that “boosts fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas,” and which drew a veto threat from the President.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the bill “would promote upgrades in the power grid to respond in energy production changes since 2007, including increasing levels of wind and solar power production,” and “authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a victory for environmental groups, and the building of ports for shipping American-sourced natural gas overseas, a victory for the fossil fuel industry.”

The New York Times reports that the bill was approved “largely by avoiding the hot-button topics of climate change and oil and gas exploration that have thwarted other measures.” The bill “includes provisions to promote renewable energy, improve the energy efficiency of buildings, and to cut some planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution.”

The Houston Chronicle  reports that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has offered his tentative support to the Senate energy bill. The Wall Street Journal  reports that Congress is now planning to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill.

The House version contains measures that the White House has expressed concern about, such as a more expedited review process for natural-gas exports, but has not threatened to veto. If the bill includes House legislation and becomes law, the Washington Post  reports, it would “unleash billions in research and development on new energy technologies, including energy storage, hydrokinetic and marine energy and advancing the electric grid.” Many of these initiatives “have substantial aisle-crossing appeal.”

Eisenberg: Energy Legislation A Positive Sign, But More Work Is Needed. In a press release from the National Association of Manufacturers (4/21), NAM Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy Ross Eisenberg commented on the Senate’s new energy bill, saying that the “broad bipartisan vote on this essential energy package is a positive sign and a step in the right direction, but more work needs to be done.”

Eisenberg calls on the Senate and House to “reconcile” their bills “and get these energy policy reforms to the president’s desk.” He notes that these reforms are “a matter of competitiveness and opportunity” for US manufacturers because “better energy policies present opportunities to unlock manufacturers’ full potential to innovate, grow the economy and create jobs.”

Energy Bill Includes Measure Promoting Fuel-Efficient Vehicles. The Detroit Free Press (4/20, Spangler) reports that the energy bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday includes a provision which reauthorizes the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Vehicle Technologies Program which works with automakers to improve fuel efficiency, “including through research into electric- and natural gas-powered vehicles as well as hybrid and other systems.” The Detroit News (4/20, Laing) adds that the $1.6 billion Vehicle Technologies Program was reauthorized through 2020.

Senate Bill Includes Energy-Efficiency Measures. The Cleveland Plain Dealer (4/20, Koff) reports the Senate energy bill includes energy efficiency measures that would require DOE to support new building codes, “direct Federal housing authorities to authorize energy- and water-saving pilot projects in apartment buildings,” and boost efficiency-related job training and efficiency in manufacturing and appliances.

Senate Energy Bill Recognized Biomass As Renewable, Carbon-Neutral. The AP (4/20) reports the Senate energy bill would also direct federal agencies “to establish policies that recognize electricity generated by biomass plants as renewable and carbon-neutral.” Biomass plants are “struggling to compete in the energy market” amid low natural gas prices.

Energy Bill Boosts DOE’s Cybersecurity Mission. The Hill (4/20, Bennett) reports Senate energy bill includes cyber security provisions that would give the DOE “greater power to intervene during a cyber crisis, authorize funds through 2025 to establish cyber-testing programs and conduct cyber research and better delineate the DOE’s overall role in defending the grid from digital intrusions.”

The cyber passages represent a “significant addition over the last energy bill that passed Congress in 2007,” which contained “only passing references to cybersecurity.” The measure “emphasizes that DOE is the primary cybersecurity agency for the energy sector” and authorizes $100 million each year through 2025 “to conduct research and develop digital defense testing programs.”