As the House and Senate fill their legislative schedules between now and the August congressional recess, energy issues continue to play a major role in political debates both in and outside of the beltway.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said during a July 17 committee hearing that he plans to offer his legislation (S. 1342) to strengthen the country’s electric grid from cybersecurity threats as an amendment to broader cybersecurity legislation that may come to the Senate floor before the August recess. The Grid Cyber Security Act would authorize the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish deadlines for issuing new standards, grant the secretary of Energy emergency authority to deal with imminent cybersecurity threats to the grid; and give the North American Electric Reliability Corporation a more significant role in enforcing standards. The Senate is also expected to consider legislation to extend Bush-era tax cuts before the August recess. Fiscal year 2013 appropriations bills are likely to be on hold until senators return from recess in early September.
This week specifically, the Senate will begin deliberations on Republican and Democratic tax cut provisions. The Republican bill (S. 3414), from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would extend the Bush era tax cuts, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) version (S. 3412), would extend cuts only to households making less than $250,000.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a list July 18 of legislation it will take up in the two weeks before the August recess, which runs from August 4 through September 9. During that two-week period, the House will take up tax-related legislation and a moratorium on new regulations, but the majority leader made no mention of the 2012 farm bill (H.R. 6083). Should the House not soon pass their version of the farm bill, House and Senate negotiators will have little time to craft a compromise before the current law expires September 30.
House Republican leaders have packaged together seven bills (H.R. 373, 1840, 2308, 3862, 4078, 4377, and 4607) that could either halt regulations or otherwise revamp the regulatory process for consideration on the House floor this week. The package, the Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act, includes a moratorium targeting all pending rules that could impact the economy and a proposal to prevent presidents from issuing midnight regulations.
The House will also begin evaluating an offshore drilling bill (H.R. 6082) that cleared the House Natural Resources Committee July 18 on a vote of 24-17. An alternative to President Obama's 2012-2017 oil and natural gas lease sale plan, the measure would allow 29 oil and gas offshore lease sales over the next five years; 15 of the draft’s authorized lease sales are included in the Administration’s five-year plan. The other 14 would be combined into a multisale environmental impact statement.
On the Administration front, though a series of Environmental Protection Agency developments occurred last week, as outlined below, the agency completed most of its controversial rules months ago, and is now delaying and killing others until November or later, while preparing to release relatively popular regulations before the elections.