Before their departure for a two-week recess, both the House and Senate will consider their respective budget resolutions. Leadership intends to reconcile the two budgets by mid-April. Congressional budget resolution activity is expected to initiate what has typically been a politically-charged process of spending cap determinations for federal agencies. The budget resolution will determine overall FY16 spending levels, as well as the treatment of sequestration and the balance between defense and non-defense spending. These decisions will ultimately be reflected in agency- and program-specific appropriations for FY16. While both budget resolutions aim to create a balanced budget within a decade, repeal the Affordable Care Act and institute similar cuts to domestic programs, they take divergent approaches to defense spending levels. Notably, both versions recommend important energy reforms related to oil and gas production, permitting and environmental regulations. The amendment process will be fairly constrained in the House. It is anticipated that Senate floor consideration will result in a large number of amendments being filed on a wide variety of topics. Insiders anticipate amendments related to energy policy and climate change.
Items of Interest:
- Senate and House Committee Staff Continue to Work on Potential Energy Legislation. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) staff continue to hold numerous bipartisan meetings with stakeholder trade associations and environmental groups. The sessions confirm that the focus of the legislation will be energy infrastructure, supply and efficiency. It is anticipated that upon conclusion of the staff listening sessions, which will also include meetings with private company representatives and other stakeholders, and after receiving input from members, the bipartisan staff will develop staff drafts to serve as the basis for Committee consideration. The initial draft is likely to be quite skeletal, consisting of consensus points on which both sides agree. It will, however, serve as the basis for an ENR Committee markup and consideration of amendments. The Committee hopes to report a bill to the floor by Memorial Day. On the House side, Energy and Commerce Committee staff are engaged in discussions on the scope of an energy package. Majority staff hopes to release a discussion draft in mid-April once Members return from the April break. Release of a draft will remain contingent, however, on how discussions progress with their Democratic counterparts during the recess.
- Ozone NAAQS Comment Period Closes; Congressional Activity Expected in Coming Months. With the close of the comment period on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) proposal, Congress is likely to be even more targeted in its scrutiny of the Agency’s efforts. Insiders anticipate oversight activity in their respective authorizing committees (House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee). A number of related bills have been introduced this week, including a bill spearheaded by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) that requires EPA to focus on economic impacts when issuing major rules. Senators Thune (R-SD) and Manchin (D-WVA) have companion legislation in the Senate. Additionally, other Members have expressed an interest in, or are pursuing, the possibility of introducing other NAAQS-related legislation. Energy and Commerce Committee staff, however, anticipate conducting a large number of oversight hearings during the course of the spring before formal introduction of legislation.
- Hearing Held on Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act: Senate Passage Still Unclear. Amidst much press coverage and significant attention, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) last week held a hearing on Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform legislation introduced by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Tom Udall (D-NM). The bill, which was introduced with 15 bipartisan co-sponsors (seven Democrats and eight Republicans), has been harshly criticized by various left-leaning Members including EPW Ranking Member, Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Boxer stymied progress on the bill last year amidst concerns regarding potential preemption of her home state’s related laws. The Environmental Defense Fund has come out in support of the bill. TSCA has not seen significant reform since the late 1970s. A mark-up of the bill is expected after the April break. On the House side, Energy and Commerce Members continue to deliberate and work on their version of TSCA reform. Sources indicate that the House version will not mirror the Senate bill, but instead is expected to be less broad. It is anticipated that a bill could be released this spring with Committee activity by the Memorial Day recess. Insiders believe that Members will endeavor to move a TSCA reform bill through the House by the August break.
- Whitfield Introduces 111(d) Related Discussion Draft. Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) unveiled a discussion draft of the Ratepayer Protection Act of 2015, a draft legislation designed to protect households and businesses from higher energy costs and other negative impacts from the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. As currently drafted, the measure would allow for judicial review of any final rule before allowing states to reach compliance. The discussion draft also calls for a safe harbor should a state governor determine that a state or federal plan implementation would have significant and adverse impacts on state economies or on reliability of a state’s electricity system. The Subcommittee plans to hold a hearing on the discussion draft on April 14, 2015.