Senate Passes Energy Reform BillApril 27, 2016
On April 21, the Senate approved by a vote of 85-12, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 (S. 2012) which was championed by Senate Committee on Natural Resources leadership– introduced by Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) was an original cosponsor. The legislation was initially brought to the floor for Senate consideration in January this year, but stalled when an amendment to provide financial resources to Flint, Michigan was not included in the bill. After several months of negotiations, the amendment was withdrawn with the expectation that it will be attached to a piece of moving legislation in the very near future.
The legislation generally avoids controversial energy topics like climate change. However, it does address many bipartisan energy priorities. Included in the legislation are significant portions of the long-stalled Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2015 (S. 720) which addresses energy efficiency issues and was introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). These provisions would seek to boost energy efficiency in the manufacturing and commercial sectors as well as establish voluntary national model building codes. More broadly, the legislation will also streamline the federal approval process for natural gas exports and electric transmission lines as well as bolster cybersecurity protections for the energy grid.
The legislation will now be conferenced with the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015 (H.R. 8) which was introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and passed the House in December 2015. That legislation was approved with little Democratic support and under the threat of a veto from the White House. However, some of the provisions to which the White House objected in that legislation were passed separately as part of the budget deal last year, making a conferenced bill more likely to be signed by President Barack Obama. Sen. Murkowski expects that the conference will be able to complete its work before the August recess.
Small businesses operate on much smaller margins than larger companies, and are therefore increasingly susceptible to swings in the energy prices that accompany an unreliable energy grid. Small businesses are also encumbered by the power outages that accompany an unreliable energy grid which lead to work stoppages and delays in production. Having a reliable energy infrastructure is absolutely essential to the small businesses which provide almost half of all private sector jobs in communities across the country.