Murky November Legislative Prospects

(Via CQ)

Lame-duck action is uncertain on an energy bill while Europe follows the Obama administration’s approach to offshore drilling.

When Congress limps back into town after the November elections, the legislative calendar and the federal fiscal condition will not be amenable for action on energy legislation. CQ reported prior to the recess on a wide range of pressing topics awaiting the lawmakers on Nov. 15, as well as reporting earlier this month on likely difficulties completing action on the highest priority: a fiscal 2011 omnibus spending bill. Under the continuing resolution (PL 111-242) the House and Senate have until Dec. 3 to clear an omnibus package or a new temporary spending bill (view CRS backgrounder).

Roll Call also reported on the overall political uncertainty awaiting lawmakers as they attempt to address the possible extension of Bush-era tax cuts in November. New spending initiatives, including expected action on a Medicare physician payment extension (view CQ report) and new senior citizen Social Security payments (view CQ report), also saps fiscal resources for an energy plan. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., has offered an energy efficiency tax incentive bill (S 3935) and a renewable electric fuel standard proposal (S 3813), plus Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has set up a procedural vote on a natural gas and electric vehicle bill (S 3815) immediately upon the chamber’s return. Climate change legislation, which has been shelved for the year, also remains a focus of attention in the Senate but in the form of a possible lame-duck vote on a measure (S 3072) to delay EPA greenhouse gas emission rulemaking.

Another measure looming in November includes energy-related provisions. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., recently stated in an interview that the chances of approving the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill (S 3454) will improve following the elections, noting time constraints will put pressure on lawmakers to pass the bill (view CQ report). The Obama administration objects to polar environmental satellite cuts and defense base environmental hazard compensation included in the bill (view White House statement). The House version of the defense measure (HR 5136) also includes language requiring the Defense Department to determine if any rare-earth materials are essential to national security (view CQ Energy and Climate report). Lawmakers also voted to add two amendments that allow restrictions on BP PLC from Defense Department contracts (view text) and clarified the department’s ability to purchase alternative fuels (view text).

Additionally, on the heels of the administration’s rollback last week of a deep-water oil drilling moratorium (view Department of Interior memorandum), Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., while supportive of the move, remains resolved to pressing the administration to expedite new drilling projects (view CQ report). Across the Atlantic, senior European officials appear to be taking a similar policy stance as the United States regarding offshore energy exploration.

Gunther Oettinger, the European commissioner for energy, announced last week that the European Commission supports the approval of legislation that would impose higher safety requirements and greater financial liabilities on oil companies engaged in offshore drilling along the European Union’s coastlines. However, the proposal does recommend EU member states be allowed to impose a drilling moratorium if necessary (view European Voice report). The EC also released an assessment of the effectiveness of the EU environmental liability rules to prevent and remedy environmental damage.

The resumption of continued energy exploration in the Gulf of Mexico comes amid the prospects of the United States reducing its use of oil. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest outlook estimates U.S. oil consumption to slightly decline in 2011 and 2012 by 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent respectively. EIU bases this estimate on a combination of the fading impact of economic stimulus and efforts by the Obama administration to initiate measures on fuel efficiency and reduce dependency on carbon fuels.

Note: During the congressional recess, Energy and Climate Morning Take will update online the list of recent news articles and energy- and climate-related documents. A new Monday e-mail will be sent Oct. 25 and regular weekday email reports resume Nov. 15.

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