The House moved one step closer to conferencing an energy bill with the Senate, but in the process added more controversial provisions to their underlying bill. Included in the amendment language – totaling over 800 pages – are several controversial items, many of which have garnered a presidential veto threat. Among those items: California drought assistance that would loosen environmental restrictions for water storage and delivery; dramatic reductions to the Department of Energy’s clean energy research funds; and streamlined permitting mechanisms for mines.
Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to approve the conference by a vote or pick conferees. Senate Democrats were appalled at the recent addition of House amendments and are holding up the process. There is growing optimism by Democratic Party leaders that the Senate will flip in the fall, thereby giving them a stronger hand to play during the conference as the Senate majority.
Despite the hold-up, leaders in both parties expressed guarded optimism about completing a conference before the August recess. However, it increasingly looks like negotiations will take much longer and be held up until the lame-duck session, which starts after the fall elections. Typically, it is easier to pass something during that period, as members of Congress are not as worried about taking tough votes and political rhetoric is considerably less bombastic. The downside to waiting until the fall is that many must-pass legislative items are crammed into a small legislative calendar, leaving a small window to vote on the energy bill.
Even if the House and Senate end up passing a bill, the measure still needs to be signed into law by President Obama, and the administration has been tight-lipped about the prospects of a bill gaining his approval. Many believe that in the remaining days of his presidency, his focus will continue to be on regulatory change. There is little incentive for the president to bow to the will of Congress, making the process that much more difficult.
NAIOP has been actively lobbying on the energy efficiency title of the energy bill for several years. Our advocacy achieved specific changes in both the House and Senate bills. Those changes include: a rulemaking allowing for input from the commercial building industry to set proposed efficiency targets; the ability for the Department of Energy to set separate efficiency targets for residential and commercial structures; consideration of economic feasibility and the up-front costs of achieving proposed efficiency targets; and removal of zero-net-energy as the basis for increased efficiency targets, among others.
In order for us to get those policies embedded in law, we will need to press for the need for compromise. The last time an energy policy was enacted was nearly a decade ago. Much has changed in the intervening years. Building codes, which were not addressed the last time around, have become considerably more energy efficient, but also much more costly to implement. The need to meld economic realities into the process of increasing efficiency is greatly needed. While the time may not be ripe for cooperation with the political elections heating up, there is always hope that after the fall, and Congress will get back to the business of passing meaningful legislation.
John Bryant is Senior Director for Federal Affairs for NAIOP.