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Hopes remain for congressional energy reforms in 2016


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Hopes remain for congressional energy reforms in 2016

TheU.S. Senate's sweeping energy bill remains bogged down by resistance to twopotential provisions, including financial aid for the Flint, Mich., watercrisis, but sources say the legislation could be back on the Senate floor soon.

Although campaignsfor upcoming elections have tightenedCongress' schedule this year, there is talk the energy legislation may returnto the Senate floor after lawmakers finish work on a must-pass to reauthorize the FederalAviation Administration.

"Thebipartisan energy bill represents both good policy and good process,"Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee spokesman Michael Tadeo said onApril 8. "I am optimistic about the energy bill's prospects of beingpassed by the Senate and signed into law."

TheSenate energy committee, with the help of Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska,has managed to reduce the number of holds to two from 12, Tadeo said. If theycan resolve the two remaining holds, S. 2012 could be finished "in days,"he added.

Althoughhope remains for the energy package, time is short with the Republican andDemocratic national conventions coming up in July. Even if the Senate managesto resume work on the bill and pass it, the legislation would likely go to aconference committee to be reconciled with the House's . That process will take upmore time in an already crowded congressional calendar. In addition, the Obamaadministration has voiced concern with provisions in the House bill that easepermitting and licensing for energy projects, issues that could extendconference committee negotiations and potentially hinder White House approvalof the legislation.

Thebudget process is also unlikely to offer a chance for passing key energyreforms. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is pushing for a more appropriationsprocess with clean budget bills that are free of policy riders.

Debate on the Senate energy bill stalled in early Februaryamid partisan divisions over inclusion of Flint funding in the legislation,known as the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, or S. 2012. Lawmakerseventually reached a bipartisan agreementto add Flint aid, but Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, still placed a hold on the bill,saying Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, had already requested funds fromthe state Legislature and that relief and repair efforts were "already inthe works."

Thereis another hold on S. 2012 from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The Florida lawmakeris opposed to a proposed amendment from Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., that Nelsonfears would encourage the repeal a no-drilling zone off the coast of Florida.Cassidy's amendment is aimed at increasing the amount of revenue a state wouldreceive if it allows drilling off its coasts, although it does not authorizeany new drilling or leases. The amendment has not been voted on yet, but billmanagers have promised to hold a vote on it as part of floor debate on S. 2012.

TheSenate energy bill is divided into fivesections: energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountabilityand permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Thewide-ranging legislation includes measures to ease or speed permitting ofnatural gas pipelines and LNG exports and reduce the backlog of hydropowerlicense applications and would give the Secretary of Energy emergency authorityto protect the bulk power system from cybersecurity threats. The bill alsoseeks to advance electric grid energy storage, requires studies on barriers todistributed energy and micro-grid deployment, and would direct RTOs to submitreports to FERC on capacityresources and market rules.