House Energy Committee’s Redux Agenda

National Journal

It’s a new Congress, but it’s hard to tell by looking at the agenda of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The powerful panel is pushing one piece of legislation that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline and another measure that hinders environmental regulations. While the bills are not identical to ones from the last session of Congress, they’re awfully close.

The similarities between the committee’s agenda this session and that of the last two years is a reminder that the 2012 political cycle was mostly a status quo election. House GOP leadership keeps pushing bills rebutting Obama’s policies, only to watch these high-profile measures collect dust in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The Energy Committee is moving quickly through its regular-order process to approve a new version of legislation on the controversial oil-sands pipeline, which includes a new section limiting legal challenges to the project. The Energy and Power Subcommittee will mark up the bill Tuesday, and the full committee will do so Wednesday. The measure is expected to pass in both instances, mostly along party lines. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., has said that the full House would take up the bill by Memorial Day, which would coincide with the start of the summer driving season—and higher gasoline prices.

The basic premise of this bill—that the pipeline should be built—does have a majority of support in the Senate. During the upper chamber’s vote-o-rama on the Democrats’ budget last month, the Senate passed an amendment, 62-37, that would approve the pipeline. The vote was a big symbolic victory for pipeline proponents, but because the underlying bill is never going to become law, neither will the amendment. The question now is whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would bring up the bill in a way that it could become law, even though that would rebuke President Obama’s executive authority over the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.

Meanwhile, the Energy and Power Subcommittee held a hearing Friday on draft legislation sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La. According to a summary of the measure, Cassidy’s bill would ban the Environmental Protection Agency from finalizing energy-related regulations, such as one requiring cleaner gasoline, that are expected to cost more than $1 billion if the Energy Department determines that the rule would cause “significant adverse effects to the economy.”

This measure, called the Energy Consumers Relief Act, seeks to constrain EPA’s cost-benefit analysis, which weighs industry costs and public-health benefits. That basic goal of prioritizing economic concerns first and foremost was also expressed in a pair of bills the House passed last session, including the Stop the War on Coal Act that the committee introduced in September 2012, which required, among other things, an interagency committee to analyze the cumulative economic impacts of certain environmental rules. Another bill, the Reins Act, which the House also passed last Congress, would require Congress to approve every major regulation.

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