The week ahead: House to vote on 'No More Solyndras'

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Solyndra has come to personify the ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats on the government’s role in markets, particularly energy.

Republicans say the firm’s bankruptcy shows clean-energy technology is not ready to compete with fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal and oil. The GOP and its presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, have advocated for expanding gas-and-oil drilling as a centerpiece of their energy platforms.

Despite the criticism Obama has received for his bets on clean energy, the president has pushed forward with his support of green technologies. Though he has recently warmed to more natural-gas drilling, the president has vocally backed wind, solar and other forms of green energy.

Off the floor, the House Energy and Commerce Committee — the birthplace of the “No More Solyndras Act” — will jolt its members back into session with six subcommittee hearings this week.

The centerpiece will be two bills designed to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Though House Energy and Commerce Republicans have taken aim at EPA regulations all session, the Energy and Power subcommittee hearings Tuesday and Friday will be some of the first on the topic since the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia shot down one of the agency’s rules. The court said an EPA rule that that curbed soot- and smog-forming power plant emissions that crossed state lines encroached too much on states’ abilities to manage emissions.

The court's decision in that air quality rule could embolden Republican attacks against climate change regulations as well, as the two bills discussed during the committee hearings hit that subject.

The Tuesday hearing will discuss Rep. Ed Whitfield’s (R-Ky.) bill (H.R. 4255) that would prohibit EPA from offering financial assistance for greenhouse gas emission reduction activities for efforts that occur outside the U.S. — essentially, international climate change agreements.

Democrats backed a global climate change deal in their platform last week at their national convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Meanwhile, Romney said in an online questionnaire last week that U.S. efforts to reduce global warming were ineffective if not matched by coordinated international action. He criticized Obama’s EPA regulations, saying they would shift industrial activity to emerging economies that were not committed to cutting emissions.

The Friday hearing will take a look at Rep. David McKinley’s (R-W.Va.) bill (H.R. 6172) that would prevent the EPA from regulating fossil fuel power plants for carbon dioxide emissions until certain pollution-control technologies are commercially available.

Those technologies, known as carbon capture and storage, have yet to become cost efficient. The technology collects greenhouse gas emissions before they reach the atmosphere and then pumps them underground into rock formations.

But commercialization of carbon capture and storage appears years away, despite the federal government spending billions to accelerate the process.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a noted advocate of the technology, plans to introduce a research and development bill similar to a previous one he sponsored in 2010.

Elsewhere, Capitol Hill will be going nuclear.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will discuss Chairman Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) nuclear waste bill (S. 3469). Bingaman has already acknowledged the bill won’t pass this year. Instead, the hearing will be an informational one meant to provide a bit of momentum for the next Congress. By then, Bingaman will be gone and enjoying his retirement.

Bingaman’s bill would implement recommendations from a January report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, including developing interim storage sites to hold the waste accumulating at nuclear power reactors; restarting efforts to build one or more permanent disposal sites; and establishing a new independent federal body to assume oversight duties from the Energy Department.

That’s not it for nuclear in Congress this week.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a Wednesday hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) progress on implementing nuclear reactor safety enhancements. The hearing will mark NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane’s first appearance before the committee.

Also on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will discuss the security measures in place at the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons complex. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman will testify.

Off the Hill, EPA is putting on its Environmentally Friendly Vehicle Conference at the Baltimore Convention Center. The Monday through Wednesday event marks the first time the conference has been held in the United States. Sven Alkalaj, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, will speak, along with Bob Perciasepe, EPA deputy administrator.

The Solar Energy Industries Association will host its annual Solar Power International conference in Orlando, Fla. from Monday through Thursday. Former President Clinton will speak at the event on Wednesday.