It was the tale of the two chambers this week in Congress with the House falling down party lines and the Senate coming together in a bipartisan fashion. The House voted for the 37th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the 229-195 vote was split down party lines save for two Democrats who joined the majority. In the Senate, however, the two sides of the aisle came together to confirm Dr. Ernest Moniz to be Energy Secretary by a vote of 97-0, and the Senate approved, 83-14, the Water Resources Development Act. The bill, which allocates $12 billion for water infrastructure projects, was sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). The House is currently drafting its own version in the hope of later conferencing with the Senate.
The House and Senate Agriculture Committees considered their respective Farm Bills last week. While both bills reauthorize agriculture programs for five years, there are significant differences between the two versions, chiefly mandatory funding for energy programs. The Senate version originally allocated $800 million in mandatory funding, but an amendment by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) brought that total up to $900 million. The full Senate will begin considering its version today. The House version has no mandatory funding for its energy title. Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) had introduced an amendment to include mandatory funding, but he later withdrew it. (A more detailed discussion of the Farm Bill can be found below.)
On Thursday, Dr. Ernest Moniz was confirmed by the Senate to serve as Energy Secretary by a vote of 97-0. The same day, Gina McCarthy was approved, 10-8, by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to become the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. On the horizon is the nomination of Dr. Allison Macfarlane to serve a complete term as Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing is scheduled for Thursday to consider her nomination. Chairman Macfarlane was confirmed to complete the term of former Chairman Gregory Jaczko in July 2012; that term expires on June 30. Despite heavy rhetoric against the latter two nominees, most still think McCarthy and Macfarlane will be confirmed this summer.
The optimism from last week to consider S. 761, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013, and a handful of bills on hydropower on the Senate floor before the Memorial Day recess has waned. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), whose committee approved the bills on May 8, had previously been actively pursuing floor time for the bills before the break. It is now unlikely that the measures will be considered by the full Senate until after the Memorial Day recess.
Looking down the road, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to announce that it will hold two hearings in June on combined heat and power technology. The Committee had hoped to hold the hearings in May, but the schedule was full.
Off Capitol Hill, the Departments of Energy and the Interior made headway on natural gas issues. On Thursday, the Interior Department released the revised proposed rules on hydraulic fracturing on public lands. The agency previously released rules that were later recalled after more than 177,000 public comments were filed; the new rules modified past language based on those comments. Many had expected the approval of a liquefied natural gas export terminal by the end of the week, and on Friday, the Energy Department announced the conditional approval of a second facility.