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Tide of energy legislation lifts US power lobbying expenditures

U.S.power companies and industry trade groups spent more on federal-level lobbyingin the first quarter of 2016 than a year earlier as lawmakers worked to passmajor energy legislation and smaller reforms moved through Congress.

Upcomingelections have shortened the congressional calendar for 2016, but lawmakershave been busy advancing legislation for the electric power sector. The U.S.Senate on April 20 passed its first major energy in almost nine years, the EnergyPolicy Modernization Act of 2016, or S. 2012. The wide-ranging bill includesprovisions to enhance energy efficiency, protect electric reliability,modernize the grid, and streamline the approval process for LNG exports, aswell as to promote the development of hydropower, geothermal and otherlow-emitting energy sources.

TheU.S. House of Representatives passed its own energy bill in December 2015,H.R. 8, whichlawmakers plan to reconcile with the Senate's legislation in a conferencecommittee. Both the House and Senate bills include measures granting the U.S.Department of Energy emergency authority to address major threats to theelectric grid, including from cyberattacks, and would protect sensitiveinformation on critical infrastructure from public disclosure. The bills differon natural gas pipeline permitting and other provisions.

TheEdison Electric Institute praised passage of the Senate's energy bill, whichwas among the group's lobbying priorities in the first quarter. EEI reported$2.25 million in federal lobbying expenditures in the first quarter, up 7.1%from the same period in 2015, according to a disclosure statement filedrecently with the secretary of the Senate.

S.2012 "will improve the federal permitting process for critical energyinfrastructure, including natural gas pipelines, electric transmissionfacilities, and hydro power projects," EEI President Tom Kuhn said. "Itwill also repeal a ban on fossil fuel generated energy at federal buildingscreated by Section 433 of the 2007 energy bill."

Thegroup's other lobbying issues in the quarter included two House bills relatedto electric power rates and merger reviews.

TheHouse on March 14 passedH.R. 2984, or the "Fair Ratepayer Accountability, Transparency, andEfficiency Standards Act," which would allow stakeholders to challengerate changes that take effect without an official FERC order. On the same day,the House passed H.R. 4427, which would amend Section 203 of the Federal PowerAct to limit FERC asset merger and consolidation reviews to transactions thatare valued at $10 million or more.

Alsoin the first quarter, EEI focused on bills to give states greater control overregulation of coal ash from power plants, as well as cybersecurity legislation,measures to better protect the electric grid from electromagnetic pulse attacksor geomagnetic disturbances, and a bill to postpone deadlines for the U.S. EPA's 2015 ground-levelozone standards.

MajorU.S. electric utilities also spent more on federal lobbying in the firstquarter than the prior-year period. SouthernCo. spent $3.42 million, up more than 14% from the same time in2015 and the most of the 15 biggest U.S. power companies by marketcapitalization tracked by SNL Energy, an offering of S&P Global MarketIntelligence. The company met with lawmakers and their staff on legislation torequire the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the Clean WaterRule, which redefined waters subject to federal regulation. Republicanlawmakers have repeatedly attempted to overturnthe rule, which a federal appeals court stayed in October 2015 pending theoutcome of litigation.

Southernalso lobbied on energy and water budget appropriations for fiscal year 2016,nuclear waste storage and nuclear innovation legislation, and a House bill toresolve "conflicts" between environmental regulations and gridreliability.

came in secondplace for first-quarter lobbying expenditures at $2.51 million, up 24% yearover year. Duke's lobbying efforts centered on many of the same bills that EEIfocused on in the first quarter, including the House and Senate energy bills,legislation to extend ozone standards implementation, and H.R. 2984 and H.R.4427. The company also lobbied Congress on disapproval resolutions to block EPA'sgreenhouse gas standards for existing and new power plants and bills to enhanceinformation-sharing on cybersecurity threats and enable civilian research anddevelopment of advanced nuclear energy technologies, respectively.