Senate Passes Comprehensive Energy Bill, Opening the Door for Possible New Law this Year

As a reminder that virtually anything can occur in Washington, DC at any time, on April 20 the US Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S.2012) by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 85 to 12. Senators voting against the bill included: John Boozman (R-AR), Tom Cotton (R-AR), James Lankford (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), David Perdue (R-GA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Patrick Toomey (R-PA).

The Energy Policy Modernization Act is a comprehensive bill that includes many provisions, such as:

  • Support for building energy codes
  • The SAVE Act
  • Allowing Federal disaster relief funds to be used for energy efficient structures and products (references Standard 90.1-2013)
  • Formally establishing the WaterSense program
  • Increases interagency coordination of activities related to the energy-water nexus
  • Support for data center energy efficiency
  • Reauthorization of the Weatherization Assistance Program and State Energy Program
  • Workforce development, including the establishment of building training and assessment centers

The next challenge is for the Senate bill to be combined with the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R.8), which passed the House last December, and contains a number of controversial provisions. The final combined bill would then be voted on once more by the House and Senate before going to President Barack Obama for his signature or veto.

The long path left have some nervous that not enough time remains this year to get everything done, which would force the entire process to start over, with the added complication of a new President and Members of Congress, and the possibility that both bills could be completely derailed.

Curiously Uncertain Future for Senate Comprehensive Energy Bill

The Energy Policy Modernization Act (EPMA) of 2015 (S.2012) is the comprehensive bipartisan bill that is supported by most members of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee – including the Committee’s top Republican and Democrat. Additionally, because the many parts of EMPA have been working their way through Congress for the past several years, the attitudes of Members of Congress towards the bill are generally well-known. Despite all of this, the bills’ fate remains unclear – for the moment.

According to Senate staff, given the anticipated congressional calendar and likely need to address other unforeseen events, the best time for EPMA to be debated and possibly passed is between January and early February. This is a unique window in which Members of Congress are in Washington, DC for an extended period of time with nothing definitely scheduled yet for the Senate floor. The schedule will solidify over the next two weeks.

If EPMA is debated on the Senate floor, it will likely occur under an open amendment process, which could either allow Members of Congress to voice their concerns and add favored provisions to it or grind consideration of the bill to a halt. While surprises do occur, if EPMA is derailed in January-February, it’s unlikely to be taken up again until 2017.