The federal legislative and regulatory work agenda for the rest of 2018 will include three top energy policy issues: (1) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) reform, (2) deregulation and (3) Russia sanctions.
These topics have occupied the headlines in Washington throughout the first half of 2018 and will remain in the spotlight as Congress heads into its final work session before the November midterm elections. Below is a review of where things stand.
Renewable Fuel Standard. Despite the flurry of hearings and meetings over RFS reform in the first half of the year, lawmakers and policymakers have yet to produce a satisfactory plan to reform the federal program for U.S. refiners and biofuel producers. The RFS has been a divisive issue for U.S. lawmakers for years, pitting corn-producing states against those with refineries. Broadly speaking, at issue are the transparency, integrity and costs of the RFS program. Small refiners have long voiced their concerns with compliance costs, while biofuel producers have questioned the EPA’s process for issuing financial hardship waivers.
The debate came to a dramatic pass in June 2018 when the White House shelved a highly anticipated deal at the last minute, given objections from a pair of Iowa lawmakers. RFS reform will continue to be a closely watched topic in the near term, especially with newly installed acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the EPA. At an Aug. 1 Senate hearing, Wheeler made it clear that improving the transparency of the RFS program would be a priority for the agency. Industry stakeholders will also be on the lookout for any official decision to allow the year-round sale of E15 gasoline.
Deregulation. The GOP’s deregulatory agenda is moving full steam ahead. House Republicans have already inserted a full repeal of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule into one of their FY 2019 spending bills (H.R. 6147). Republicans also can count on the EPA to take some aggressive deregulatory action. The agency has been busy working on rewrites for WOTUS and the Clean Power Plan. In addition, on Aug. 2, the EPA announced a proposed rule to roll back the Obama administration’s fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions rules for cars.
Russia Sanctions. The push to impose additional sanctions on Russia’s energy sector has gained renewed momentum in the Senate since the president’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Just before the Senate left for its shortened August recess, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), introduced a bill that would, among other things, impose sanctions on certain investments in energy projects supported by Russia’s state-owned companies. The Graham-Menendez legislation is only one of the many sanctions-related bills recently introduced in the House and Senate. Over the abbreviated August recess, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Banking Committee kicked off a series of hearings on the U.S. sanctions regime against Russia.
This article is part of a series of reports on our experience in the energy sector. Read the previous article in the series: Overview of Energy Trade, Tariffs and Quotas