With less than two weeks before the beginning of the 5-week long August Congressional recess, and only two full legislative weeks in September before the expiration of the current continuing resolution (PL 113-6), Congress does not have much time to act on how to keep the government operating at the October 1, 2013 onset of Fiscal Year 2014. Sources anticipate that Congress will pass another stopgap funding bill that will fund government expenditures past October 1, but the reality is that at this juncture there is no agreement on any of the annual appropriations bills or a budget agreement. Without a budget agreement, the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate remain approximately $91 billion apart on federal government funding, much more than the close to $20 billion difference last year when FY 2013 spending bills were not considered on the Senate floor. More specifically, the House assumes the sequester, and caps spending at $967 billion. Senate Democratic leaders (and the White House) have assumed the end of the sequester, and Senate appropriators have set the spending limit at the $1.058 trillion level.

In energy-related news, the full House chamber is expected to consider and approve the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2218), which is designed to pre-empt EPA’s authority to regulate coal ash by setting minimum federal standards and allowing states to develop a permit program. Passage of a similar bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate remains an open question, although potentially possible. A Senate bill is unlikely to be released before the August recess. The House is also scheduled to consider and likely to approve H.R. 1582, the Energy Consumers Relief Act of 2013, which precludes the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from finalizing an energy-related regulation that is estimated to cost more than $1 billion and that the Secretary of Energy finds would have adverse effects on the U.S. economy. The bill has slim prospects of consideration in the Senate.

Senate Avoids the Nuclear Option; McCarthy Confirmed as EPA Administrator

Last week, the Senate was able to avoid the onset of a procedure called the “nuclear option” - to modify the 60-vote threshold to advance executive branch nominees. Had it been invoked and succeeded, only 51 votes would have been required to approve nominees. Meeting in the old Senate chamber after significant negotiations, various sources reported that different from the atmosphere of late, the Senate that convened for three and a half hours last Monday was one that communicated, and the members mostly listened to each other. Under the resulting agreement, Republicans refrained from filibustering the nomination of a small group of Administration nominees. On the agreed upon list was the nomination of Gina McCarthy for EPA Administrator. As reported in previous Washington Updates, her nomination was considered and approved 59-40, despite the hold by Senator Blunt (R-MO). Janet McCabe, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), was predictably named Acting head of OAR. Also confirmed was Richard Cordray, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose nomination was previously blocked.

As reported in last week’s Washington Energy Update, this week the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, will consider the nominations of three other EPA nominees: Avi Garbow, nominee to head the EPA office of General Counsel; Jim Jones, nominee to run the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention; and Ken Kopocis, nominee to head the EPA Office of Water. Of the three, Kopocis’s nomination is likely to remain the most controversial given a previous hold on him (he was first nominated in the 112th Congress) as a result of controversy surrounding certain Administration water policies. Separately, a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for Ron Binz is said to be set for mid-September (likely September 17, 2013). Binz, former Colorado Public Utilities Commission Chairman, was recently nominated to serve as Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. His nomination could see some controversy as questions have been raised regarding his impartiality given his role in Colorado law negotiations that incentivized the shuttering of coal-fired power plants when he served as head of Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission.

Shaheen-Portman Could See Floor Action during the Last Week of July

With the nuclear option crisis averted, a situation that would have brought the Senate to a standstill had it been invoked, the Senate is suddenly in a position where it could have time to begin to consider possibly the only energy bill, S.761, that the 113th Congress could consider. The bill, also known as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013, is designed to bring up to date energy efficiency regulations in state building codes and incentivize energy-efficient manufacturing. It is a measure that its sponsors—Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)—have been working on for a number of years. Most recently, they used a consensus process among a wide and diverse stakeholder group to develop and amend the bill, which has broad public support. Senators from both parties are still trying to work out a deal to limit amendments to the bill.

In related S. 761 amendment news, Senator Barasso (R-WY) last week reported that Republicans will attempt to force a vote on the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Another amendment potentially for consideration is premised on the “National Energy Tax Repeal Act,” which Barasso introduced last week. The bill targets the President’s recently announced Climate Action Plan and would prevent the EPA from promulgating regulations aimed at regulating coal-fired power plant carbon emissions after June 2013, unless Congress authorizes the regulation. Wyoming is reported to be the nation’s largest coal producer. As reported in a previous Washington Energy Update other potential amendments to be filed on the bill include one similar to recently introduced legislation (S.1020), by Senators Hoeven (R-ND) and Manchin (D-WV), the All-Of-The-Above Federal Building Energy Conservation Act of 2013, that would repeal section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-140). Section 433 calls for the elimination—by 2030—of fossil fuel energy from federal buildings by 2030. S.1020 instead would require a 30 percent reduction by 2015 and then a 45 percent reduction by 2020. Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) is said to be working on an amendment to counter the Hoeven/Manchin effort. His amendment would eliminate benchmarks prior to 2020 but still retain a “carbon neutral” standard by 2030.