“NO” on Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012)

This week, the Senate will conclude consideration of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (S. 2012). The Senate began consideration of the 420-page bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) 35% and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) 7%, back in January.  The bill seeks to promote energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and land conservation through federal intervention.  According to The Heritage Foundation, the provisions are simply a “continuation of government meddling in the energy economy” and would “waste taxpayer resources, override consumer preference, direct money toward politically preferred technologies, and appease special interests.”

Proponents of the bill will point to a few encouraging, small-scale provisions, like expediting LNG export applications.  True energy reform, however, would reduce government barriers by eliminating mandates, subsidies, regulations, and other programs that hinder the development and use of our natural resources, allowing consumers and the market to determine our country’s energy future. This legislation falls far short of that goal; in fact, it goes the opposite direction by continuing and expanding the ‘government knows best’ model that has failed our country for decades.

After the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported the legislation last year, Nick Loris, an energy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, wrote a detailed analysis of the provisions, highlighting a number of concerning areas including:

  • Creates more unneeded taxpayer-funded subsidies for worker-training programs including a 21st Century Energy Workforce Advisory Board at DOE to develop a strategy for the support and development of a skilled workforce to meet current and future energy sector needs;
  • Creates wasteful energy efficiency programs to retrofit schools and nonprofit organizations, and for improving the energy efficiency of state and tribal buildings;
  • Provides subsidies for hydroelectric production, as well as research demonstration projects for geothermal energy and hydrokinetic energy;
  • Expands authority for government money for biopower and bioheat systems, creates a low-interest loan program for industrial bioheat systems;
  • Authorizes $100 million a year for cybersecurity research and development, workforce curricula, supply-chain security, testing response capabilities, improving coordination with the intelligence community and other cybersecurity actors, and risk modeling, most of which should be led by the private sector;
  • Promotes electricity grid infrastructure and energy storage, but goes about it in mostly the wrong way by creating more government programs, not fully addressing any regulatory barriers that prevent development and grid modernization;
  • Amends and reauthorizes a program to make methane hydrates a commercially viable source of energy, despite the repeated failure of the federal government in commercialization efforts;
  • Creates an unneeded program for recycling critical minerals, which could be led by the private sector;
  • Promotes commercialization of carbon capture and sequestration as an objective of the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, again ignoring government failure in the commercialization field;
  • Continues government backed energy loan guarantee program, which amounts to a federal subsidy; and
  • Expands the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program to include the “reequipping, expanding, or establishing of a manufacturing facility” for vessels, which has already had several notable taxpayer funded failures.

A package of amendments — to be voted on en bloc — is expected to be included in the bill doubles down on the big government interventionism embodied in the underlying bill.  The package of amendments includes:

  • Murphy 9% 3035 – Creates Buy America provisions for some federal projects
  • Shaheen 2% 3292, as modified – Voluntary grant program to promote combined heat standards power technology
  • Manchin 21% 3270 – Establishes a coal technology program creating research and development program, pilot program, demonstration projects, and net negative carbon emission project and authorizes a bunch of money to carry it out.
  • Cantwell 7% 3313, as modified – Sense of the Senate on accelerating clean energy innovation
  • Vitter 68% 3265, as modified – Energy and maritime workforce training community college
  • Alexander 26% 3290 – Establishes new research, development, and demonstration program to identify a useful purpose for spent vehicle batteries
  • Gillibrand 12%/Cassidy 50% 3004 – Use of disaster relief and emergency assistance for energy efficient products and structures
  • Udall 9%/Portman 28% 3221 – Establishes new voluntary WaterSense program to promote water efficiency
  • Portman 28% 3309, as modified – Creates the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund at the Treasury to fund special projects and authorizes $25 million each year for ten years that can match private donations on a dollar for dollar basis.

Additionally, the bill perpetuates the massive federal estate through the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) despite the fact that the federal government already owns over 635 million acres of land. Heritage elaborates on the follies of permanently reauthorizing the LWCF, noting that the federal government already owns 635 million acres of land:

America’s largest land holder, the Department of the Interior (DOI), has a maintenance backlog of $13.5 billion to $20 billion for the land it already owns—a deficit leading to environmental degradation, soil erosion, gross amounts of littering, and land mismanagement.

The solution is not to throw more money at the problem by increasing budgets, acquiring more land, or placing burdensome restrictions on existing federal lands, but to transfer ownership and responsibility to state and local governments and private property owners.

Heritage goes on to suggest the “result of devolving responsibility to those parties closest to the issue, who can prioritize problems, solve them effectively, and properly weigh the needs and desires of local communities will be better land use and environmental protection, enacted in ways that suit the needs of local populations—not tens of billions of dollars in maintenance backlogs.”

While some of the bill’s provisions appear small in nature, taken together they would be a significant expansion of the federal government. When combined with the lack of significant conservative victories, the so-called Energy Policy Modernization Act is an “all pain, no gain” proposition.

Heritage Action opposes S. 2012 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

*** This key vote was originally posted January 25, 2016***

Heritage Action Scorecard
Heritage: Bipartisan Senate Energy Bill Full of Poison Pills (October 2015)
The Hill: Conservative group warns against House energy bill (October 2015)
Heritage: 5 Reasons Why Senate Energy Modernization Bill Is Anything but Modern (January 2016)