House panel approves energy reform bill


The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved an overhaul of the nation’s energy laws on Wednesday, though the legislation shed much of the bipartisan support it once enjoyed. 

The committee passed its energy reform bill on a 32-20 vote, with only three Democrats in favor. The legislation focuses on modernizing infrastructure, improving energy efficiency and updating other federal energy policies. 

The bill is the House equivalent of energy legislation a Senate panel passed in August. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the committee, said it was an important step forward for rewriting federal energy policies during this Congress. 

“This is our first attempt at significant energy legislation since 2007 and a great deal has changed in less than a decade,” he said during the markup. 

“Fears of America running out of energy have been replaced by a once incomprehensible rise in domestic oil and natural gas production. But our laws and regulations need to be updated in order to reflect this new reality.”

But while the Senate bill secured some bipartisan support in August, and an early draft of the House bill cleared a subcommittee on a unanimous vote, Energy and Commerce Democrats were mostly opposed to the final legislation on Wednesday.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Republicans included a series of “significant and controversial changes” in the final bill. 

During the hearing, he faulted the bill for omitting funding for new infrastructure projects or pipeline repairs and replacement. He said the bill doesn’t include a grant program for state and local governments to improve their electricity infrastructure, something he and other Democrats had wanted.  

“This bill only aims to help polluters,” Pallone said during the markup.

“Meanwhile, it continues to ignore the impacts of climate change, which remain the biggest threat to our energy security and way of life. At the end of the day, we are now faced with a contentious markup on a bill that could have been a bipartisan consensus product.”

The bill won plaudits from a major oil trade group for its focus on expanding liquefied natural gas exports and boosting infrastructure improvements and job training programs. 

“This legislation would accelerate America’s energy revolution, bringing thousands of jobs to communities across the country,” said Louis Finkel, the executive vice president for government affairs at the American Petroleum Institute.

But environmental groups hammered the legislation for its focus on supporting fossil fuels over renewable energy. 

“The House Energy bill that passed out of the Energy & Commerce Committee today marks yet another missed opportunity to combat climate change, reduce carbon pollution and expand clean energy,” said Sara Chieffo, the vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters.

“The final legislation pushed by extreme members of the committee puts a heavy thumb on the scale for fossil fuels and entrenched polluter interests.”

During the hearing, Upton acknowledged that the bill didn’t have “bipartisan consensus on as many fronts as I would have liked.”

In a statement after the vote, he said, “We will continue working toward building a bipartisan consensus as our goal remains getting something to the president’s desk that will be signed into law. We are on to the floor.”