Legislative Announcements

 


President Trump Releases “Skinny Budget” Proposing Sharp Cuts

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

The Trump Administration sent its budget blueprint to Congress on March 16. The so-called “skinny budget” is a document that outlines the Administration’s broad spending priorities for fiscal year 2018, which begins October 1. A more detailed proposal is expected later in the spring. President Trump and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney asserted that this “hardpower budget” decreases funding for “hundreds of programs and focuses funding to redefine the proper role of the federal government.”

Of the major federal agencies, only the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs would receive budgetary increases. The remaining agencies would face the following cuts: Environmental Protection Agency is cut by 31 percent, Department of Agriculture by 21 percent, Department of the Interior by 12 percent, and the Department of Energy by 6 percent. The budget also proposes eliminating several programs, including the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the USDA’s water and wastewater loan and grant program.

Cuts to the EPA target research, development, and climate change initiatives. Despite significant cuts to the DOE’s research programs, the budget proposes $120 million to revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site project along with an end to the sequesters for the National Nuclear Security Administration. The budget also provides Interior with $1 billion for “safe, reliable, and efficient management of water resources throughout the Western United States.”

Congress is unlikely to adopt President Trump’s entire budget as it prepares the FY18 spending bills. Both Democrats and Republicans have voiced their concerns. Senator Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, said, “We will not balance the budget by cutting discretionary spending, which is only 31 percent of spending and is already under control because of earlier budget acts.” Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Senator Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska) said, “Over the past several years we have already made significant progress streamlining agencies like the EPA while retaining funding for its core mission and functions – particularly basic infrastructure. I expect that to continue.”


Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Holds Infrastructure Hearing

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On March 14, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on “opportunities to improve American energy infrastructure.” Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D–Wash.) in their opening remarks highlighted the bipartisan support for energy infrastructure development. Chairwoman Murkowski reminded senators that “energy infrastructure is central to our way of life and our standard of living, but it is almost always an afterthought—until it breaks down.” Witnesses from local governments, energy companies, national labs, and industry groups shared numerous ways Congress can ensure energy infrastructure receives necessary investments.

Clay Koplin, mayor of Cordova, Alaska, and CEO of its local electric cooperative (and a NWPPA member), testified to the “regulatory dogpile” that ensued when the Federal Emergency Management Agency rushed in to provide funding to repair a dam damaged by storms – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was also involved and the FEMA money ended up barely covering the regulatory costs, Koplin said. He called for an agile project management approach and for allowing local governments to determine which strategic projects will provide the greatest return on investment.

Jeffrey Leahy, deputy executive director of the National Hydropower Association (NHA), criticized Congress for extending tax credits for wind and solar energy, but not hydropower. Leahy added the hydro sector has enormous potential for growth as only three percent of the nation’s dams are currently used for hydro. NWPPA has an active resolution that favors all forms of hydropower and supports efforts to promote hydro’s full potential as an energy source.

Representatives from Dominion Energy and Pacific Power called on Congress to streamline the regulatory process. Extended delays in obtaining responses from federal, state, and local actors raise costs and discourage investors, they said. Diane Leopold, CEO and president of Dominion Energy, suggested scheduling reasonable response deadlines for agencies, while Stefan Bird, CEO of Pacific Power, and Koplin pushed for federal agencies to identify a lead agency to serve as a primary contact point that would guide concurrent reviews among agencies rather than having stakeholders navigate a plethora of agencies. NWPPA supports regulatory streamlining so long as local actors retain an equitable voice in the process.

Witnesses also called for easier processes to build transmission lines across state and federal land, for investments in pumped storage technologies, and for Congress to work with the Trump Administration to act swiftly on expected nominees to FERC. Senators were generally receptive to the witnesses’ requests, though Democrats cautioned that regulatory reform should not compromise safety and environmental standards.


House Energy Subcommittee Holds Hydropower Infrastructure Hearing

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On March 15, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing entitled, “Modernizing Energy Infrastructure: Challenges and Opportunities to Expanding Hydropower Generation.” Witnesses from Bonneville Power Administration, the Hydropower Reform Commission, the American Society for Civil Engineers, and NHA spoke on the licensing, regulatory, and re-licensing issues faced by hydropower operators around the country. Committee members examined with the witnesses the problems with duplicative and lengthy licensing requirements, the potential for hydropower to be a boon for the economy of a region, the opportunities for a reliable renewable energy source to bring stability to the grid, and the potential for private investments in infrastructure.

All witnesses spoke on the benefits of hydropower, which include bringing clean reliable energy to areas investing in intermittent renewable energies, like wind and solar, and most expressed concern for maintaining the stability and health of the fish, wildlife, and wetlands associated with dams and hydropower. Dave Steindorf of HRC mentioned specifically the uncertainties faced by hydropower projects in California.

The comments by representatives and witnesses showed that there is significant interest in utilizing hydropower in its most efficient, clean, reliable, form, and reforming the regulatory process to allow for this to happen, consistent with NWPPA’s Resolution in Support of All Hydropower.


Cantwell, Wyden Urge Protection of Energy Infrastructure in Cyber Order

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D–Wash.) and past chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) sent a letter to President Trump on March 14 asking that he protect “critical energy systems and networks” in any forthcoming Executive Order on cybersecurity. Specifically citing the threat of Russia, the two senators write, “[I]t becomes increasingly clear that the Russians and other foreign actors have the capability, and potentially the intent, to do significant damage to our economy by attacking our critical energy infrastructure, including our electric grid.” The senators ask President Trump to review to what extent America’s energy infrastructure may be vulnerable to cyberattacks.

President Trump was expected to issue an Executive Order the week of January 30 to consolidate the federal government’s defense of cyberattacks. The order has been delayed multiple times as the White House works with the Department of Homeland Security to carefully word the order to avoid confusion and legal challenges. DHS Secretary Kelly asserted in a recent congressional hearing that any forthcoming order will be carefully drafted and consistent with applicable laws.

Despite Secretary Kelly’s assurance, the senators remain concerned that the order may violate current law. Referring to a leaked draft of the order, the senators write, “[I]t appears that the contemplated executive order may direct [DHS] to carry out certain duties that have, by statute, been assigned to [DOE], including a potential assessment of electricity disruption response capabilities.” They ask the president to make certain that any coming Executive Order is consistent with current law.


President Trump Signs Executive Order, More on the Way

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

On March 13, President Trump issued an Executive order entitled, “A Comprehensive Plan For Reorganizing the Executive Branch,” which is intended to improve the federal government’s efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. The order directs the Office of Management and Budget’s Director Mick Mulvaney to “draft a plan restructuring governmental roles and eradicate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs.” The newly issued order could facilitate the proposed budget cuts within several agencies, such as the EPA and DOE, which are both targeted for cuts in the Trump Administration’s “skinny budget” for fiscal year 2018.

Separately, the Trump Administration is contemplating expanding its forthcoming executive order to repeal the Clean Power Plan to include a broader list of Obama-era environmental rules. The Trump Administration is also expected to issue an Executive Order in the near future that will roll back stringent federal regulations on tailpipe standards. Several Executive orders, such as one expected on cybersecurity (see related story above), have been repeatedly delayed.


Congressional Budget Office Scores Republican Health Care Plan

Update provided by Meguire Whitney 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its cost estimate for the Republican health care bill on March 13. The report projects the American Health Care Act will increase the number of people without health insurance by 24 million, cut the federal deficit by $337 billion, and reduce health insurance premiums by 10 percent over 10 years. Having already passed the House Ways and Means Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 9, House Republicans passed the bill out of the Budget Committee on March 16.

Amid the quick pace of committee action, a chorus of opposition grew from both sides of the political spectrum, casting doubt on whether the current bill could pass either chamber of Congress. Many conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus oppose the bill because they believe it does not go far enough to undo Obamacare. Moderate Republican senators believe the bill as written could not pass the upper chamber because the bill reduces Medicaid coverage. Democrats argue the bill cuts taxes for the wealthy while reducing coverage for vulnerable populations.

The health care bill is the top priority for Congressional Republican leaders and President Trump; tax reform is not expected to begin in earnest until health care has been addressed.