After nearly six hours of debate, the House Energy and Commerce Committee showed some bipartisanship and voted 32-20 on Wednesday to pass a comprehensive energy bill championed by Republicans. The bill, HR 8, also known as the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, now moves on to the full House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, veteran Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, announced he will not seek a twelfth term in Congress, and will instead retire at the end of 2016.
A total of 41 amendments were introduced and considered by the panel on Wednesday, all but six of which were submitted by Democrats. It appeared that most of them were defeated along partisan lines. Twenty-four amendments were proposed to Title IV of the bill, which deals with energy efficiency and accountability, while another 14 amendments were submitted for Title I, addressing modernizing and protecting infrastructure.
The two remaining sections of the bill address workforce development in the energy and manufacturing sectors, and energy security and diplomacy.
HR 8 would streamline the regulatory process for authorizing U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. It would establish a 30-day deadline for the Department of Energy (DOE) to take action on applications, once a review under the auspices of the National Environmental Policy Act is completed.
Also under HR 8, the Federal Power Act would be amended to require each regional transmission organization and independent system operator that operates a capacity market to provide the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with certain analyses to ensure reliability and performance assurance.
"We commend the House Energy and Commerce Committee for passing legislation that recognizes and seeks to maximize the opportunities presented by our nation’s domestic energy abundance," said Frank Macchiarola, executive vice president for government affairs at America's Natural Gas Alliance. "Language that would provide greater certainty to the DOE's processing of permits for LNG export terminals is a significant step in the right direction. This policy has broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
"We also are encouraged by several other provisions in the bill, including those that support workforce development and the streamlining of pipeline permitting. We look forward to working with members as this measure moves forward in Congress."
HR 8 also calls for reinvestment in the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and for modernizing the nation’s energy infrastructure to protect it from a host of potential threats, including severe weather and cyber and electromagnetic attacks. It also includes, among other things, having Smart Grid capability displayed on Energy Guide labels; implementing energy and water efficiency measures for federal buildings; and offering energy retrofitting assistance to schools.
Supporters of action to avert climate change said the bill was totally one-sided and failed to provide any support for renewables. The National Resources Defense Council said the bill “ignores the important role of clean energy.”
In a statement Tuesday, Whitfield counted "promoting the utilization of our abundant fossil fuels" among his accomplishments in Congress.
"While many Americans are frustrated with the institution of Congress, I still believe that politics is a worthy vocation and I know many men and women of character will always be willing to serve," Whitfield said.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, lauded Whitfield for his years of service.
"Ed Whitfield epitomizes the very best of the Energy and Commerce Committee," Upton said. "He cares deeply about the issues before us, welcomes vigorous debate, and is a gentleman in every sense. He has been a dear friend and valued confidante as subcommittee chairman.
"It's all-of-the-above with Ed -- thoughtful legislator, fierce opponent of [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] overreach, and unwavering advocate for affordable energy."