SPECIAL WEB UPDATE: Senate Approves Last
Year's Energy Bill?!
IN A NUTSHELL: As reported in an AGI
special update, the Senate spent the last week of July debating
comprehensive energy legislation. That debate quickly devolved into
bickering over nearly 400 proposed amendments and waging a partisan
fight over President Bush's judicial nominees. Rather than leave town
for the August recess without finishing the energy debate, Senate
Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist (R-TN) brokered a deal under which this year's bill, S. 14,
was traded for last year's, S. 517. The bill passed 84-14 setting
the stage for a Conference Committee of House and Senate members to
iron out the differences between this bill and the bill that the House
passed, H.R. 6, on April 11th.
THE DEAL: In the end, the one thing all sides could agree
on was that it was better to pass a bill and move the energy debate
further along in the legislative process than to do nothing at all.
Democrats, who were losing votes on many of their amendments, agreed
to the switch because last year's bill was sheparded through the process
under a Democrat-controlled Senate by Daschle. Senate Republicans
agreed to the switch believing that they can craft a bill closely
mirroring the House-passed, presidentially backed version when the
House and Senate meet for a Conference Committee.
Suprisingly, there was no objection to the unanimous consent (UC)
agreement under which the bills were swapped. Any Senator, especially
one of the 11 senators who voted against last year's version, could
have objected and put an end to the deal. To pacify the objections
of Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Senators promised to allow separate
votes later this year on energy-market manipulation. In order to win
support from Senator McCain (R-AZ) for the switch, McCain and Senator
Lieberman (D-CT) were guaranteed 6 hours of floor time to debate climate
change when the Environment and Public Works Committee's Climate Stewardship
Act comes up for debate. McCain and Lieberman are expected to offer
an amendment that would set a national goal of stabilizing U.S. greenhouse
emissions for several major industrial sectors at year 2000 levels
by the year 2010.
Once the switch was made, 14 Senators still voted against the bill.
They were Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY),
Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward Kennedy (D-MA),
Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack
Reed (D-RI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), John Sununu (R-NH), Ron Wyden
(D-OR), McCain and Cantwell.
HOW THE TWO SENATE BILLS DIFFER: The major points of difference
between the old and new Senate bills are:
- Renewable portfolio standards: Last year's bill would mandate
electricity suppliers generate 10 percent of their power from renewable
energy sources by 2020. This year, no RPS provision was included
because Senators did not get that far on the list of amendments
- Climate change: Last year's bill would keep greenhouse gas (GHG)
reporting voluntary for at least five years, but included a trigger
that would make the registry mandatory if after five years it accounts
for less than 60 percent of U.S. GHG emissions. This year, no climate
change provisions were included because Senators did not get that
far on the list of amendments to debate.
- Electricity: Last year's bill would amend the Federal Power Act
to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority over
regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and the ability to approve
reliability standards for RTOs. This year, no language was included
giving FERC powers to authorize RTO formation, and FERC would be
prevented from implementing its "standard market design"
reform plan until 2005, an issue that was not addressed last year.
- Price-Anderson Act reauthorization: Last year's bill called for
reauthorization of the Price-Anderson nuclear liability act until
2012. This year's version would reauthorize Price-Anderson permanently.
- Nuclear power industry funding: Last year's bill said the Energy
Department should aggressively pursue construction of a new power
plant by 2010. This year's legislation would go much further, authorizing
$1.13 billion for construction of an Advanced Reactor Hydrogen Co-Generation
Project at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.
This year's bill also would provide nuclear loan guarantees.
- Hydropower: Last year's hydropower language would create two new
procedures for hydropower relicensing, as opposed to four this year.
The previous Senate bill also would allow any stakeholder to submit
alternative conditions for operations and give the licensee's proposal
greater weight, but S. 14 would allow only license applicants to
submit an alternative in a "trial-type" hearing. Another
significant difference between the two bills is that this year's
language would make an even more explicit change in the definition
of fish passage that would allow dam owners to use hatcheries as
- Indian energy: The Indian energy titles in S. 517 and S. 14 are
similar, but one difference generated much debate this year. Last
year's title would have let tribes approve contracts, leases and
rights-of-way for electricity generation and distribution projects,
without approval from the Interior secretary. This year's title
would broaden that to other kinds of energy projects. During floor
debate in June, Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-HI)and Bingaman (D-NM) tried
to strike the language, which they said would exempt the energy
projects from National Environmental Policy Act reviews, but the
Senate tabled their amendment, 52-47.
- Tax title: Though very close in total dollar amounts, last year's
$14.5 billion tax package included no offsets. Both tax titles would
include credits for the purchase of alternative motor vehicles and
electric cars and incentives for the purchase of energy efficient
appliances. This year's tax package was scored at $15.7 billion.
HOW THE HOUSE AND SENATE BILLS STACK UP: There are vast differences
between last year's Senate bill, S. 517, and this year's House bill,
H.R. 6. The 2002 Senate bill would have directed utilities to increase
the amount of electricity generated by wind power and other renewable
sources and created a new White House office on climate change and
a registry of companies' greenhouse gas emissions. The House bill
does not. This year's House legislation approved drilling in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge; S. 517 did not. The Senate and House versions
also differ on the authority given to federal regulators to oversee
utility mergers. A chart showing how last year's Senate bill stacks
up to this year's House bill can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_bill_comparison.html.
Going into conference a few issues have bipartisan support, like
doubling production of ethanol, a corn-based gasoline additive, and
restrictions on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's attempts
to open the nation's power transmission system to more long-distance
deliveries of electricity. However, in shelving this year's Republican
energy bill, S.14, Senate GOP leaders gave up some important issues,
including loan guarantees for half a dozen new nuclear power plants.
Senate Republicans will be struggling to make up for lost ground and
depending on the House to help them along the way.
The Conference Committee could convene as early as this fall to begin
working out the differences between these two bills. They will have
until the end of the 108th Congress, late fall or early winter 2004,
to present a bill to the House and Senate, respectively, for a yes-or-no
vote. No amendments may be made to legislation emerging from a Conference
Update prepared by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily, The Washington Post
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted August 4, 2003