Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a long-awaited comprehensive energy bill late Monday that will touch on pipelines, the electric grid and energy efficiency.
The panel's Energy and Power subcommittee on Wednesday will mark up the 95-page bill, which is designed to mirror a similar effort in the Senate.
"This week's subcommittee vote will mark an important milestone as we work to build the Architecture of Abundance. Wednesday's markup is the next step in ensuring we not only get this legislation done, but get it done right," Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement.
Republicans and Democrats have aimed to avoid loading the bill with partisan goodies that might derail the legislation. A committee aide expected broad bipartisan support for the bill when the subcommittee votes. Tellingly, it steers clear of calling for an end to a 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil, language that would have led most Democrats to reject the bill if it were included.
Still, the legislation addresses a number of policy areas that have long been simmering on Capitol Hill. And, despite the confidence expressed by the committee aide, Congress has a tall task in passing the bill — it hasn't cleared a broad, substantive energy bill since 2007.
The bill seeks to streamline permitting decisions for interstate natural gas pipelines, a move that proponents say is necessary to ramp up infrastructure that's failed to keep pace with the boom in shale gas production.
On electric reliability, the bill would let power plants violate environmental laws "to meet the emergency and serve the public interest" if federal regulators deem electric reliability is severely threatened.
The bill also would amend a 1978 federal law by directing electric utilities to develop a plan to withstand power outages. It recommended improvements, such as smart grid technology to remotely locate and repair problems, distributed power systems and self-sustaining "microgrids," which exist largely apart from the traditional electric grid, by linking disparate energy sources. The change also implores state regulators to consider approving rate increases so utilities can pass costs onto customers to pay for those investments.
Another provision would give the Energy secretary authority to step in to declare emergency measures when the electric grid is under cyberattack. The move has been long sought by federal regulators and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to clear up confusion as to whom can take charge of the nation's electric grid infrastructure in such situations.
The nation's emergency energy supplies and how they're distributed also would get a revamp, as natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012 exposed shortcomings. The bill also calls for submitting a plan to create a "Strategic Transformer Reserve" to place backup electric infrastructure in various locations in case major electric grid assets are damaged, a concern that's mounted following an armed attack at a San Jose electric substation in 2013.
The bill calls for studying regional electricity systems that might inform how best to build new energy infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines and transmission lines to connect renewable power to the grid. It aims to promote workforce skills desired by the energy industry. Another study the bill requests would explore ways to more closely integrate U.S., Mexican and Canadian energy infrastructure.