Overnight Energy: House passes first Interior, EPA spending bill in seven years

AT LAST: The House passed a $32.1 billion bill funding the Interior Department and environmental programs, the first time the legislation has cleared the House since 2009.

The bill would cut spending for Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other programs by $64 billion over current levels, and is $1 billion less than what President Obama requested in his budget.

{mosads}It includes a handful of policy riders to block EPA regulations, including those dealing with water, power plant emissions and coal mining near waterways.

Republicans said the bill was an important way to rein in EPA regulations, but Democrats, environmentalists and the White House objected, saying it would undercut federal clean air and water rules.

“There is a great deal of concern over the number of regulatory actions being pursued by EPA in the absence of legislation and without clear congressional direction,” said. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) during floor debate this week.

“For this reason, the bill includes a number of provisions to stop unnecessary and damaging regulatory overreach by the agency.”

The House hasn’t approved an Interior and EPA spending bill in years. Republicans brought it up last summer and were anticipating passage, but leadership pulled it before the vote to avoid a floor fight over the display of the Confederate flag at national cemeteries.

Read more here.

House bill includes Flint provisions: The House’s spending bill included two amendments meant to assist Flint, Mich.’s recovery from a drinking water contamination crisis.

The first measure allows the state of Michigan to forgive drinking water loans to the city. The second provides $3 million for a $7 million drinking water testing program there. The state of Michigan is covering the remainder of the cost.

Flint’s congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), offered the amendments to the House’s Interior and environment spending bill this week, and the House approved them on a voice vote on Wednesday night.

“It will take a lot more to fix this problem and a lot of commitment from the state and the federal government, but it means a lot to the people back home,” Kildee said.

Read more here.

WATCHDOG HITS DOE ON WHISTLEBLOWERS: Congress’ watchdog agency is pushing the Department of Energy (DOE) to better protect whistleblowers that work for contractors.

A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Thursday concluded that DOE relied heavily on contractors’ self-assessments of whistleblower protections, the agency’s rules are too convoluted for most individuals to understand and officials rarely enforce the rules.

“DOE’s reluctance to hold contractors accountable may diminish contractor employee confidence in mechanisms for raising concerns and seeking whistleblower protection,” the report said.

Three Senate Democrats had requested the report as part of a years-long fight over how DOE contractors manage whistleblower protections.

“This new Government Accountability Office report makes clear that the Department of Energy has utterly and completely failed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said at a news conference. “The currency of whistleblowers is the truth. But at the Department of Energy, whistleblowers are paid with harassment and retaliation.”

The DOE accepted most of GAO’s recommendations, and said it is working to implement them.

Read more here.

HOUSE CHAIRMAN: ENERGY BILL PROMISES ‘BIZARRE:’ A House chairman assigned to the energy bill conference committee said it was “a little bit bizarre” to hear a Senate Republican promise to cut provisions from the bill that could earn a presidential veto.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said it defeats the purpose of going to a joint House and Senate conference committee if Republicans are going to preemptively agree to remove controversial, conservative provisions from the bill.

“As far as I understood, I was not privy to any conversations in which somebody made a deal that said this stuff will not be in or will be in,” Bishop told reporters Thursday. “A conference is a conference. You handle it as a conference.”

When the Senate voted to go to conference with the House this week, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “I will reiterate my personal commitment to a final bill that can pass both chambers and be signed into law by the president.”

That means some House-passed energy provisions, such as a GOP-backed measure to help relieve the California drought, might be on the chopping block.

Read more here.

ON TAP FRIDAY: Congress is out for a seven-week recess. Enjoy the heat.  

AROUND THE WEB:

New United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May has shut down the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, BBC News reports.

A utility is planning what would be the country’s largest offshore wind farm off eastern Long Island, the Associated Press reports.

Utah’s legislature is letting authorities disable drones that fly near wildfires, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday’s stories…

– GOP energy negotiator accuses Senate chair of ‘bizarre’ promise
– Watchdog faults Energy Department over whistleblower retaliation
– House passes Interior, EPA spending bill
– GOP chairmen propose sweeping federal land changes for Utah
– Feds seek new rules to mitigate oil train derailments
– House adopts Flint water measures in spending bill

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com; and Devin Henry, dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill

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