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Washington Week: White House prepares budget roll-out; PURPA reform bill returns


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Washington Week: White House prepares budget roll-out; PURPA reform bill returns

The Trump administration is expected to submit its fiscal-year 2020 budget request to the U.S. Congress on March 11, including for energy-focused agencies.

Congress ultimately is responsible for crafting and passing legislation to fund the federal government, but the White House's budget outline provides a clear signal of the president's policy priorities.

For the 2020 fiscal year, President Donald Trump again will seek a large spending cut for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bloomberg News reported March 7. The White House is expected to request $700 million for the office for the upcoming fiscal year, down sharply from the $2.3 billion budget Congress authorized for fiscal 2019.

But lawmakers repeatedly have pushed back on many of Trump's proposed funding cuts for the DOE. They are even more likely to do so now that Democrats are in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and looking to boost support for renewable energy in a bid to lower greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change.

Bill to update PURPA re-emerges

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., re-introduced legislation March 5 to revise parts of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978.

Known as PURPA, that law is aimed at diversifying U.S. energy supply and supporting the development of alternative energy, primarily by requiring utilities to purchase electricity from small qualifying renewable power facilities. But as wind and solar energy development has surged in the past decade, some large utilities want changes to the law.

Walberg's bill, the PURPA Modernization Act of 2019, or H.R. 1502, largely mirrors legislation the lawmaker introduced last Congress to ease utilities' power purchase obligations. The bill, which would decrease the number of facilities from which utilities must buy power, also seeks to prevent abuse of a federal rule tied to PURPA that allows plants located at least a mile apart to avoid being aggregated into a larger single facility.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which did not vote on the legislation in the prior Congress. The proposal's chances could be even dimmer this time around, with the Democrat-controlled House eager to support renewable energy development. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which crafted the law's implementing regulations, has said it plans to look at possible revisions to the mandate.

Vote coming on DC Circuit nominee

The U.S. Senate is set to vote soon on Neomi Rao's nomination to serve as a judge on the pivotal U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which decides on many legal challenges to federal energy policies and agency decisions.

Rao currently is the administrator of the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where she has aided the Trump administration's efforts to cut back federal regulations. If confirmed, she would replace former D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court.

On March 7, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed cloture on Rao's nomination, setting up a likely confirmation vote early the week of March 11.

Moderate Democrats lay out climate priorities

The New Democrat Coalition, a group of over 100 House Democrats "seeking to bridge the gap between left and right," released goals for addressing climate change in the 116th Congress March 6.

The coalition's climate change task force said it will "seek to eliminate barriers to growth for pro-climate businesses" and "support market-based mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas pollution," among other goals. The mission statement excluded mention of the Green New Deal platform that progressive lawmakers and many Democratic contenders for the White House are promoting, which seeks to transition the U.S. entirely to renewable-based or zero-emitting electricity within a decade.

"We need to do everything we can right now to encourage reductions in carbon emissions, both through public policy and through engagement with the business community," task force Co-Chair Don Beyer, D-Va., said.

The Green New Deal's aggressive energy targets have set Republicans and more moderate Democrats on edge. But energy leaders in Congress say they see room for bipartisan agreement on measures to address climate change, including on additional research funding for technologies that could cut emissions and improve energy efficiency.

Senate bill seeks to block possible White House climate panel

A group of Senate Democrats introduced legislation March 7 that would block federal funding for a working group the White House reportedly is forming to question U.S. military and intelligence assessments that climate change threatens national security. The panel reportedly would be led by William Happer, who currently serves as the National Security Council's senior director on emerging technologies and previously led a coalition that sought to promote the benefits of carbon dioxide emissions.

"Human-caused climate change poses a threat to our economy, public health, national security, military operations, and infrastructure," said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and senior member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. "President Trump should cease his hostility toward climate science and U.S. intelligence and start taking evidence-based, concrete action to help mitigate climate threats and risks."

Reed co-sponsored the legislation along with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper, D-Del., and 13 other Senate Democrats.

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US Congress
March 12

The House Committee on Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold a hearing on the policies and priorities of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the federal power marketing administrations.

Federal agencies
March 11

The Trump administration is expected to release its fiscal year 2020 budget request to Congress.

Industry events

March 11-15

IHS Markit's CERAWeek energy conference will take place in Houston.

March 12

Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies will host a discussion in Washington, D.C., on "Oil Policy in Saudi Arabia and Status of Domestic Reforms."

March 13

The U.S. Energy Association will host a screening at its Washington, D.C., headquarters of a documentary on carbon capture and storage, or CCS, titled "CCS: Bridge to a Cleaner Energy Future."

March 14

Argentina's Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui will discuss the country's energy policies at the Inter-American Dialogue's Washington, D.C., office.

Notable stories from last week

Wheeler sees EPA under Trump bringing 'balance back' to agency

Bloomberg says Green New Deal has 'no chance,' unveils 'Beyond Carbon' campaign

Stakeholders seek auction delay amid 'chaotic' PJM capacity market planning

Nationwide report finds groundwater pollution at hundreds of coal plants

Colo. Democrats introduce 'sweeping oil and gas reform'