Energy & Environment

Week ahead: Senate to vote on disaster relief bill

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The Senate is planning to vote early in the coming week on the House’s $36.5 billion bill to bring more disaster relief to affected communities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) teed up the bill late Thursday for an initial procedural vote Monday, lining it up for a final passage vote on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The legislation would be the second infusion of emergency aid in as many months. Congress has been busy on the disaster relief front due to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, plus wildfires in the West.


Senators had considered adding additional money to the House bill, but that does not look likely. Instead, they’re leaving the door open to yet another relief bill if it becomes necessary.

“I think so far what has been done has not been as much as we should do, so we’re having a conversation with various members who come from the regions affected by Maria, by Irma, by Harvey, by wildfires, other natural disasters,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters last week.

The bill includes money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, money to help the flood insurance program’s debt, as well as for wildfire recovery and disaster food assistance for Puerto Rico, which was battered by Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló visited President Trump and numerous senators Thursday to plead for more resources. “We need to recognize there’s still a lot of work to go ahead,” he told reporters. “We need equal treatment, we need all the resources we can get.”

The Senate will also move forward on confirming five key nominations with a Wednesday vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The group includes four senior positions in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and one Nuclear Regulatory Commission member. The most controversial nominees in the group are William Wehrum, tapped to lead the EPA’s air office, and Michael Dourson, tapped for its toxics office.

The panel had scheduled an Oct. 18 meeting to vote on the group. But that meeting was postponed amid threats by some GOP senators to obstruct Wehrum due to the EPA’s biofuels policy. EPA head Scott Pruitt has since promised not to make the changes to the policy that the senators opposed.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s initial deadline for comments on Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s electric grid resilience proposal is Monday.

The comments are meant to help the commission consider whether to implement Perry’s suggestion to mandate higher payments to coal and nuclear power plants, or whether to take some other action on the matter.

Perry’s proposal has sparked controversy, with a number of former regulators blasting the plan.

On Thursday, the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will also hold a hearing on ways to protect the nation’s electric grid and other energy infrastructure from cyberattacks.


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Tags John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Rick Perry Scott Pruitt
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