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Washington Week: Lawmakers forge ahead on fiscal 2019 spending packages

Less than a month before federal funding is slated to run out Oct. 1, U.S. lawmakers have begun to move forward on a set of three appropriations packages that would support key energy and environmental agencies, as well as some others, through fiscal 2019.

The Senate and U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 5 held a conference committee to hash out differences in the two chambers' respective spending bills that cover the U.S. Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, among other things. The language from the bills has been combined as a minibus package under H.R. 5895.

The House Appropriations Committee last week announced the House lawmakers who would sit on the conference committee for a minibus package under H.R. 6147 that includes funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department along with the conferees for the minibus under H.R. 6157 that covers defense, health and education. If a deal is reached, at least one of the minibus bills, most likely the one addressing the energy spending, could be taken up by both chambers as early as this week, Politico reported Sept. 7.

Bills advance on offshore wind, FERC rate challenges

A few energy-related bills saw action last week.

The House Committee on Natural Resources advanced H.R. 6665, the Offshore Wind for Territories Act, which would open up Puerto Rico, Guam and the other U.S. territories for offshore wind development in the U.S. The bill "amends the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to apply to territories of the United States, establishes offshore wind lease sale requirements, and provides dedicated funding for coral reef conservation."

Tim Charters, a lobbyist for the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents both offshore wind and oil interests, praised the bill as long overdue. The bill would ensure that U.S. territories "can strengthen their energy security through the development of local energy resources, while providing jobs and economic growth for their residents," Charters said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Sept. 4 passed by voice vote a bill that would allow changes to wholesale electricity rates to be challenged when the new rates go into effect automatically because FERC failed to act within a set amount of time. And the Senate also passed a bill that would simplify the process for companies to merge or consolidated FERC-jurisdictional assets worth less than $10 million by eliminating the need for the agency to approve transactions valued below that threshold. Both bills still need to be reconciled with similar House versions.

Committee hearings

A number of committees in both chambers have scheduled energy-related hearings, all on Sept. 13, covering topics such as nuclear safety, liquefied natural gas exports, disaster response and the impact of wildfires on air quality.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is slated to examine the role of U.S. LNG in meeting energy demand from European countries. And the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will examine advanced nuclear power technology, including the safety benefits that may come from licensing accident-tolerant fuels.

In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Environment will explore how wildfires are impacting air quality and what mitigation and management strategies may be needed. "This hearing will call attention to the impact of wildfire smoke on our health, and examine improvements that can be made to the way we manage our forests to help prevent the unnaturally catastrophic wildfires season that we are battling once again," committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said in a statement. Wildfires in the U.S. in 2017 were so bad they drove up the total number of days that ozone and fine particulate matter pollution reached unhealthy levels in key cities around the nation.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on evaluating federal disaster response and recovery efforts. Panelists will include the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, an official from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

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US Congress

Sept. 13

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on advanced nuclear power technology and safety.

Sept. 13

House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment hearing titled Air Quality Impacts of Wildfires: Mitigation and Management Strategies.

Sept. 13

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on evaluating federal disaster response and recovery efforts.

Sept. 13

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the role of U.S. LNG in meeting energy demand from European countries.

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