Senate Considers Energy Bill

February 3, 2016

For the fipic-energy-solarrst time since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the Senate has begun consideration of a broad energy reform bill. The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (S. 2012), currently under consideration, was introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and cosponsored by Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). The first major bipartisan energy bill in nearly a decade was approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July 2015, by an 18-4 vote. If the amendment process is not contentious, the Senate is expected to pass the legislation by Feb. 5, 2016.

The committee-approved legislation is supported by enough Democratic senators that it will likely pass the Senate. The bill includes provisions relating to energy efficiency, grid infrastructure, energy supply, government accountability and conservation reauthorization. However, with this likely being one of the only few large bills to move this year, and the only energy one, it has become a target for amendments. So far, over 230 amendments have been submitted. The danger is that among those amendments are several poison pills for both sides that could undermine bipartisan support for the bill, no matter what the underlying legislation does.

The first 19 amendments considered by the Senate were noncontroversial and almost all were approved by voice vote with only three requiring roll call votes. However, there are still over 200 remaining submitted amendments. It is unclear how many of them will receive floor consideration before the final text of the legislation is ultimately considered.

Two amendments, in particular, present the danger of scuttling the whole legislation, if adopted. Those amendments would withdraw the Clean Power Plan rule and repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Those amendments were submitted by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Ala.), respectively. The Clean Power Plan would set emissions limits for power plants and would likely accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants throughout the U.S. The RFS is a requirement that certain levels of renewable fuel, predominately ethanol, be blended with transportation fuels like gasoline. Both the Clean Power Plan and the RFS are important environmental programs for many Democratic senators and language removing them would likely cost the legislation much of their support.

NSBA supports an all-encompassing energy policy designed to minimize spikes in costs and disruptions in service. Being overly reliant on one form of energy is risky for our economy, and when those risks materialize in disruptions of service and spikes in costs, small businesses are disproportionately impacted. Benefits accrue to the whole nation from reforms to updating an aging energy infrastructure across this country, including small businesses. However, NSBA remains concerned that reforms if not properly tailored, could lead indirectly to premature retirement of effective energy production methods and make the economy overly reliant on methods of production not yet ready to carry the load.