Energy & Environment

Week ahead: Lawmakers eye new hurricane relief package

Lawmakers are returning to Washington in the coming week with a number of energy and environmental issues on their to-do lists.

The highest-profile of these is a new aid package for hurricane damage in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and American territories in the Caribbean. After touring Hurricane Irma damage in Florida this week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he expects Congress to cobble together a large recovery package for victims of the storm sometime in October.

Congress appropriated an initial $15 billion to help Texas and Louisiana communities clean up following Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in August.  


But that storm — the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in 12 years — was so severe that costs estimates have ballooned to nearly $200 billion. If accurate, that would make Harvey the costliest natural disaster in American history.

Since then, the picture has only gotten worse. Irma, another major storm, swept across Florida earlier this month, and Congress has yet to write an aid package for that disaster. Maria, a Category 4 storm, slammed U.S. territory Puerto Rico this week, cutting off the island’s electricity supply and almost surely necessitating another relief package from Congress.

“As we assess and we get more information from the administration, I’m sure that we’re going to do another what we call a ‘supplemental’ sometime in October once we have a full assessment of what is needed,” Ryan said in Florida on Wednesday.

As that spending deal comes together, energy watchers have their eyes on other issues.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee approved a slate of Trump administration nominees on strong bipartisan votes on Tuesday, sending them to the floor for consideration and putting them in the chamber’s confirmation queue.

Among those nominees are Trump’s final two picks for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Democrat Richard Glick and Chairman nominee Kevin McIntyre. Given that the committee approved the two without dissent this week — and that the Senate confirmed two other Trump FERC nominees by unanimous consent in August — the stage is set for a swift confirmation for Glick and McIntrye, whenever leadership might bring them up.

FERC, with a new quorum, held its first public meeting since January last week, and was greeted by a raucous crowd of anti-pipeline protesters.  

Another group of pipeline opponents are waiting on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where Judge James Boasberg is due to soon rule on whether to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Boasberg ruled this summer that the federal government needs to conduct a more thorough review of the pipeline and asked developers and opponents to weigh in on whether to turn it off while that review takes place. Lawyers have expected a ruling in the case by this month.

Another long awaited decision is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) review of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s climate rule for power plants. The EPA said in a court filing this month that it would announce the result of its review of the rule this fall. The agency is almost certain to say it will repeal the regulation.

The ENR committee will hold a confirmation hearing for two Department of Energy nominees on Tuesday. Two Committees — the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee — will meet on Wednesday to consider legislative solutions to a difficult wildfire season in the West.

In the House, the Natural Resources Committee will hold two hearings on a total of seven bills, the Energy and Commerce Committee will discuss technology in the energy sector and the Science Committee will review research activity during August’s total solar eclipse.

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