As the blame game over high gasoline prices continues, President Obama continued his “all of the above” energy policy tour last week with visits to New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Congress has a busy week, with hearings on energy and environmental protection as well as consideration of several large energy bills, before both Houses leave for the two-week Easter recess on Friday.
On March 21, President Obama renewed his commitment to a clean energy economy while at the Copper Mountain Solar 1 facility in Boulder City, Nevada. The solar project is the largest photovoltaic plant in the nation, including a million solar panels powering 17,000 homes; two more plants nearby are expected to supply an additional 111,000 homes in the future. Later that day, he visited an active oil and gas field on federal lands in Maljamar, New Mexico.
Despite criticism from both sides of the aisle, in Cushing, Oklahoma, March 22, the president announced an executive order to expedite federal reviews and approvals for major infrastructure projects ranging from renewable energy facilities and crude oil pipelines to roads, airports, ports, and waterways, saying that agencies must identify vital infrastructure projects by the end of next month. A steering committee chaired by the Office of Management and Budget’s chief performance officer will review the projects. During his visit to the, the president issued a memorandum directing federal agencies to expedite the permitting process for the Cushing to Texas oil sands pipeline that is the southern segment of TransCanada Corporation’s 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline.
The same day, the president highlighted advanced energy projects funded by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy at the Ohio State University, specifically siting support for small modular reactors, the smart grid, advanced biofuels, and stronger lightweight materials for vehicles. During his visit, the president announced a $14.2 million Department of Energy effort to accelerate the development and deployment of stronger and lighter materials for advanced vehicles that will help reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, save drivers money, and limit carbon emissions. The funding will support the development of high-strength lightweight carbon fiber composites and advanced steels and alloys that will help manufacturers improve vehicular fuel economy while maintaining and improving safety and performance.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a motion March 22 to limit debate and begin floor action on the Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act (S. 2204). The legislation, introduced March 19 by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), would extend expired and expiring tax incentives for clean and renewable energy industries while repealing tax breaks for major oil producers. The procedural vote is expected to occur on March 26 and will require the support of 60 senators to advance toward a final vote in the Senate. Even if the Senate were to approve the measure, it is unclear how this bill would ever make it through the House. Some of the expired tax credits that would be extended through the end of the year include the credit for new and existing energy efficient homes, for certain plug-in electric vehicles, and for energy-efficient appliances. The measure would also extend the expired Section 1603 Treasury grants program, the cellulosic biofuel producer credit, and the 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing tax credits. The Senate recently voted on a similar amendment from Senator Stabenow to the surface transportation bill (S. 1813), but failed to garner enough votes for adoption. On March 23, the Joint Committee on Taxation weighed in by releasing estimates that the savings from repealing oil and gas tax subsidies would offset the $11.7 billion needed over the next ten years to extend clean and renewable fuels tax credits, with an additional $12.3 billion in savings left over.
In other news, now that the Senate has passed its version of the highway bill, the House must reach an agreement by March 31, when current transit funding expires. House Republicans introduced a shortterm extension (H.R. 14) last week that could prolong the reauthorization debate until at least June 30, but Democrats hope to move more quickly on the issue by considering the Senate-passed bill. If an agreement is not reached by the deadline, transportation agencies would effectively shut down and the federal government would lose authority on the gas tax.