The eyes of the energy and environment world turned to Georgetown University on June 25 as President Obama unveiled his new comprehensive carbon pollution reduction plan. The tri-fold strategy includes emissions regulations for new and existing power plants and initiatives to increase domestic renewable energy and energy efficiency usage, including heavy-duty vehicle fuel economy standards and renewable energy projects on public land. The president also announced that he would only approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it is not found to exacerbate CO2 emissions. Additionally, the U.S. will push for an ambitious yet flexible agreement at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change November summit. Later that day, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum requesting the Environmental Protection Agency create greenhouse gas emission rules for new and existing power plants.
Following the announcement, proponents and critics expressed their opinions on the plan. Former Vice President Al Gore commended the president, and several governors and mayors, including California Governor Jerry Brown (D) and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson (D), expressed support for the plan. A handful of utilities, most impacted by Hurricane Sandy, also praised the proposal. The American Trucking Associations announced that they look forward to new heavy-duty vehicle fuel economy standards. Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced that the government remains confident that the Keystone XL pipeline will be approved. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, slammed the plan. Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives John Shimkus (R-IL) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) all expressed concern that the plan overextends the reach of the executive branch.
While the president’s plan does not require major congressional action, the Appropriations Committees are expected to become battlegrounds for greenhouse gas emissions as they consider several FY14 appropriations bills. This past week, committees in both chambers considered and approved the FY14 Energy and Water Appropriations bills. The bills became a source of contention for riders, such as an amendment by Representatives Rodney Alexander (R-LA) and Tim Ryan (D-OR) urging action on LNG export terminals which was approved by voice vote. See a more detailed discussion of the energy and water appropriations bills below.
On June 27, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-ND) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) informed their colleagues that they will introduce a blank slate as the legislative starting point for tax reform, essentially wiping every tax deduction and expenditure off the books. The letter states that senators should submit detailed proposals by July 26 about which provisions should be added back. While conventional wisdom continues to hold that the path to passage for comprehensive tax reform faces a steep, if not impossible, climb, it is worth noting that the letter is a creative way to make senators put their cards on the table as to which expenditures they really want to support. While it is unknown exactly when the plan will be released, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) is expected to unveil his tax proposal sometime soon.
On June 25, Penny Pritzker was confirmed 97-1 to serve as Secretary of Commerce. Two days later, the Senate approved Anthony Foxx to serve as Transportation Secretary, Allison Macfarlane to serve as Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman, and Howard Shelanski to serve as Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator. Foxx was approved 100-0 while Macfarlane and Shelanski were approved by voice vote. Major nominations still await finalization. On June 25, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer announced that she was working to ensure support for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Nominee Gina McCarthy from Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME). Senator Ayotte said she wished to meet again with McCarthy but that she is considering supporting the nomination. Senator Collins did not respond on her opinion of the nomination when asked by reporters. On June 27, President Obama announced the nomination of Ronald Binz to replace Jon Wellinghoff as Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman. Wellinghoff announced in May that he would step down when his current term expires on June 30. Binz, who previously served as Colorado Public Utilities Commission Chairman, would serve until June 30, 2018 if confirmed. The same day, the President nominated current Agriculture Department Senior Policy Adviser Robert Bonnie to serve as Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment.
Looking beyond the weeklong recess, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will soon host a hearing to consider offshore energy production revenue sharing legislation currently being drafted by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). While House Republicans have in the past held an energy week, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced that there will be a cycle of energy bills considered on the floor, such as H.R. 2231, the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, which was approved 235-186 on Friday. The White House released a formal administrative policy statement on June 25, saying the president would veto the bill. The Senate may also consider the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency legislation and several appropriations bills later this month.