With less than 50 days until Election Day (November 4), Congress will have 471 seats up for election, which includes all House seats and 36 Senate seats, of which Democrats are defending 21 and Republicans 15. Charlie Cook has currently indicated that of the 21 Democratic seats, nine have been characterized as toss-ups (this differs from earlier in the summer when the number had been seven); two Republican seats (including Senate Minority Leader McConnell’s) are currently categorized as toss-ups. With Democrats in control of the Senate, Republicans have a chance to gain control after Election Day if they can both maintain all current Republican seats and pick up six more. On the House side, and with all seats up, Democrats are hoping to successfully defend as many seats as possible. Charlie Cook categorized – earlier this month - 15 House seats as “toss-up or worse” with three GOP seats and 12 Democratic races in this category.
Congress returned last week after its extended August recess. Scheduled to be in only for two weeks, Washington has buzzed with activity, both on and off the Hill. Importantly, the House this week approved a 10-week stop gap Continuing Resolution (CR; H J Res 124) to fund the government until December 11, after it saw last week’s CR pulled from consideration at the last minute. The Senate is expected to pass the CR later this week. Congress will then leave and not formally return until after the November mid-term elections.
On the energy front, the House will consider and likely approve two energy-related bills, that include a number of measures, many of which the House has already approved, albeit now packaged into two separate measures - the American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act and the Jobs for America Act. The bills are unlikely to see Senate action. This activity, however, does suggest the type of energy policy that the Senate might consider if the Republicans win the majority in the Senate. Further, it provides opportunities for House Republicans running in tight House races or in key Senate races to demonstrate their leadership on energy-related issues of importance to aspects of their constituencies. Among the measures considered is the bill to expedite the approval of liquefied natural gas exports that was introduced and sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardener (R-4-CO). The latter is challenging sitting Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) in a “toss-up” race that could define whether Republicans take the Senate majority.
Other Items of Interest:
EPA Extends Section 111 Comment Period: After receiving numerous requests to extend the comment period on its New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) proposal for existing sources (111(d)), Acting Office of Air and Radiation Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe this week announced a 45-day extension. The result is an extension of the comment period from October 16 until December 1 on the proposed rule, which would regulate carbon dioxide emissions for existing fossil fuel-fired power plants. The Agency has indicated that despite the change to the comment period, it still intends to finalize the rule by June of 2015. EPA is not extending the October 16 comment deadline for its NSPS proposal to regulate CO2 emissions from modified and reconstructed fossil fuel-fired power plants.
Elsewhere on the NSPS front, Congress continues its oversight of the Agency’s efforts to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. Upon its return last week, the House Energy & Power Subcommittee held a hearing that included testimony from state officials who will take the lead in implementing EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. Under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal, each state was given a unique target to achieve emission reductions based on a combination of four “building blocks”: heat rate improvements averaging 6 percent for coal-fired power plants; re-dispatch of combined cycle natural gas plants of up to 70 percent; avoided retirement of nuclear energy; increased use of renewable energy; and increased demand-side energy efficiency. States can use these or other approaches to meet the standard. State regulators from Texas, Montana, Arizona and Indiana argued that the proposal is too stringent and urged for more time to allow for a closer assessment of the proposal’s economic and reliability implications. Representatives from Maryland and Washington indicated that the basic structure of the proposal was sound, and public comment deadline extension was synonymous with an unnecessary delay.
The House Takes Action on the Controversial Waters of the US Rule Making: Stakeholders have until next month to submit comments regarding the EPA’s proposed Waters of the US rulemaking. The House, last week, considered and approved, H.R. 5078 that would, if enacted, repeal the current proposal and establish a consultation process that would involve federal agencies and also state and local officials, with a proposed rulemaking developed and later issued based on the consultation process. Despite a strong White House veto threat, thirty-five House Democrats, mostly from rural districts, joined Republicans in passing the bill, by a 262-152 vote. The bill will not be taken up in the Senate. While not veto proof, the vote does lay the groundwork for a potential battle in the 114th Congress, especially if Republicans gain control of the Senate. Currently, two fiscal year 2015 spending bills still pending in the House include riders, which if enacted, would block the rule from being finalized.
Washington chatter is that the uproar on the proposal, which was issued this spring, has seemingly surprised Administration officials. Washington insiders continue to question the Agency’s action to issue the proposal during an election year and raise the profile of the issue especially for in-cycle Democrats, already in tough races, who have constituents expressing significant concerns regarding the matter.
Stakeholders Await EPA’s Final Rule Release of 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard Volume Obligations (RVO); Rumors Abound Regarding Its Potential Release: Since the transmission of the 2014 RVO’s to the Office of Management and Budget last month, obligated parties and impacted stakeholders continue to visit with federal officials regarding the Agency’s proposed 2014 RVO standard, which outlines the standards for the upcoming year. Much of the flurry of activity comes as a result of speculation that differs from the released November 2013 proposal, which would scale back or reduce targets for some renewable fuels, the final numbers could reflect renewable fuel increases so as to decrease GHG emissions as compared to conventional fossil fuels. Washington insiders continue to whisper that ultimately the decision will be a political one and that an announcement is unlikely to occur until after the election, as many view the toss-up Iowa Senate race as being a significant factor in the matter.
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