House panel approves energy reform bill

A House subcommittee unanimously passed legislation Wednesday aimed at modernizing energy infrastructure, improving energy efficiency and taking other steps toward updating energy policies.

The bill is the first step in the House’s efforts to pass a broad, bipartisan energy reform package, and lawmakers were hopeful that they could have controversial policy debates as part of consideration of the bill.

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The initial bill’s provisions are mostly minor, however, and do little to answer the larger, more controversial energy debates.

But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle argued it was still important for members to work together in moving forward with the initial bill.

“This committee print before us today is reflective of the accomplishments and compromises agreed upon at this stage,” Rep. Ed WhitfieldWayne (Ed) Edward WhitfieldWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog What Azerbaijan wants from Israel? Overnight Energy: Green group sues Exxon over climate science MORE, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subpanel on energy and power, said at the beginning of the Wednesday meeting.

“Some issues that are so important they’ve got to be addressed, but they’re not in this bill yet,” he added.

Whitfield hopes that future work on the bill would repeal the mandate to cut fossil fuel use in new federal buildings, better account for renewable energy in the electricity grid and improve permitting for hydroelectric projects.

Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushBlack Dem lawmaker slams NRA rep for saying she was victim of 'public lynching' at CNN event Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Key ObamaCare groups in limbo | Opioids sending thousands of kids into foster care | House passes bill allowing Medicaid to pay for opioid treatments House passes bill allowing Medicaid to pay for certain opioid, cocaine treatment MORE (D-Ill.) had a similar take on the bill.

“The discussion draft that we are marking up today is an improvement over the legislation that was initially unveiled,” he said. “But there remains much work to be done as we move forward through this legislative process.”

Rush said he’d like the bill to do more to protect low-income energy consumers from the costs of modernizing the grid, beef up energy efficiency and other provisions.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) wished that the panel could vote on his legislation to allow crude oil exports, but admitted that it would not be appropriate when lawmakers are trying to pass a bipartisan bill.

“It has the votes to pass the committee, the subcommittee, the House and the Senate and the president will sign it,” Barton said.

Some of the panel’s Democrats lamented that the bill does nothing to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“The bill virtually ignores the relationship between energy and climate,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), echoing comments from Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.).

“And, it appears to define energy security primarily in terms of benefits of expanding markets for oil and gas,” Tonko said.

The full Energy and Commerce Committee plans to take up the bill after the August recess, when more lawmakers may be willing to offer amendments.

But the panel’s leaders have agreed that only bipartisan amendments will be considered.