Legislative Announcements

 


Republican Tax Reform Effort Moves Ahead

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On Nov. 9, after a four-day markup, the House Ways & Means Committee voted 24-16, along party lines, to send the Republican-led tax reform bill to the House floor.  The bill emerged from the markup largely intact, although Democrats forced votes on several provisions, including restoring advanced refunding bonds and the production tax credit for wind energy.  Democrats also attempted to repeal the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high cost health plans.  All Democratic amendments were voted down or withdrawn.

While the bill does not change the tax exemption for municipal bond interest, it effectively eliminates advanced refunding bonds, which allow municipal utilities to refinance bonds at lower interest rates.  Additionally, the bill eliminates the tax credit for electric vehicles, undermines the value of the production tax credit for wind, and eliminates the permanent investment tax credit for solar.  It would, however, provide an extension for the nuclear production tax credit sought by NWPPA and others.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) intends to bring the bill to vote of the full House sometime next week.

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee released a summary of its proposal on Nov. 9.  The bill also eliminates advanced refunding bonds, but does not make changes to the wind credit or the electric vehicle credit.  Unfortunately, it does not include the nuclear PTC.  NWPPA sent a note to Western Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee urging that provision’s inclusion, and hopes to see it included before final passage.  The Committee intends to mark up the bill the week of Nov. 13.


Hydropower Bill Passes the House

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On Nov. 8, the House passed H.R. 3043, the Hydropower Modernization Act, by a 257-166 vote. Sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, (R-WA), the bill designates the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as the lead agency for hydropower permitting, includes hydropower in the federal definition for renewable energy, and streamlines hydropower licensing by allowing FERC to set a schedule for federal approvals. The National Hydropower Association said that the passage of the bill is a “significant step forward” that ensures the stability of the grid.

Environmentalists and some Democrats expressed concern that the bill diminishes the role of state resource agencies, and the House Energy & Commerce Committee searched for a bipartisan compromise after passing the bill by a voice vote in committee. However, such a compromise never materialized before the bill passed the House floor, and the bill passed mostly along party lines with only twenty-six Democrats supporting it (Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), and Jim Costa (D-CA) were among them).

NWPPA has long advocated for hydropower licensing reform and made a final push for Democratic support before the bill moved to the floor.  NWPPA members were called to action to contact staff for their representatives as the bill was considered.

The bill now moves to the Senate floor, where chances of action on this measure as a stand-alone bill are slim. A bipartisan version of hydropower licensing reform is included in S. 1460, the Senate energy bill, which is awaiting consideration but not expected to advance this year.


House Holds Hearing on the Future of the Energy Star Program

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On Nov. 7, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing to consider reforms to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program. Energy Star is a voluntary program that consumers and businesses can use to make decisions regarding energy efficiency products. Since its inception in 1992, the EPA has been the lead agency for developing guidelines and standards for the program.  The discussion draft of the “Energy Star Reform Act of 2017” proposes making the Department of Energy (DOE) the lead agency while giving them the power to bring in the EPA as needed, among other things.

Several witnesses argued against DOE assuming primary control.  President of the Alliance to Save Energy, Kateri Callahan, testified that due to the already effective, trusted brand accepted throughout the U.S., the subcommittee should avoid “fixing” what is not broken. In contrast, Joseph McGuire of the Association of Home Appliance Manufactures argued that it made sense to move Energy Star “back to where it started” since DOE’s “expertise is fair, predictable, open and transparent.” Despite this disagreement, all witnesses opposed eliminating Energy Star, first proposed in the Trump Administration’s FY18 Budget request.


House Committee Holds Hearing on Puerto Rico Recovery

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On Nov. 7, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts. Two key invited witnesses for the hearing, however, declined to participate. Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority (PREPA), and Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto, mayor of San Juan, did not appear to deliver testimony as they were not able to be away at such a “critical time.” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said that he was “very disappointed” that PREPA was not present and discussed its history of management problems prior to the hurricane’s devastation.

Chairman Bishop held the hearing in order to determine how PREPA’s now-cancelled contract with Whitefish Energy came about, mentioning that “there has to be some kind of oversight, there has to be some kind of transparency, so a situation like Whitefish does not occur again.” Most of the questions to witnesses centered on the expected cost and timeframe for rebuilding the grid and restoring power to the island.  The witnesses, which included Natalie Jaresko, the Executive Director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico; Noel Zamot, the Revitalization Coordinator of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico; and Angel Perez, Mayor of Guyanabo, were unable to articulate specific details on when the grid would be restored and how much it would cost. Many Members expressed a desire for the rebuilding of the Puerto Rico grid to incorporate more renewable generation and distributed energy technologies.


Wehrum Confirmed to Lead EPA Air Office

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On Nov. 9, the Senate voted 49-47 to confirm Bill Wehrum as Assistant EPA Administrator for Air and Radiation.  The office will oversee the withdrawal and expected re-proposal of the Clean Power Plan.  Wehrum previously served in the position in an Acting capacity under President George W. Bush and represented electric utility clients in private practice as an attorney, a fact many Democrats said presented an untenable conflict of interest.


NWPPA Training Mentioned as Senate Energy Committee Holds Hearing to Examine Cyber Technology and Energy Infrastructure

Update provided by NWPPA

NWPPA gets a mention as a training organization for cyber by Carl Imhoff, Director, Electricity Market Sector, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory during the Senate Energy Committee hearing to examine cyber technology and energy infrastructure.  Imhoff said, “The Northwest Public Power Association has training opportunities for their members, but they are voluntarily offering these programs. A lot of small utilities struggle to send their staff to training, so there are opportunities to work with the Associations that these utilities belong to.” This comment was in response to Senate Committee Chair Murkowski’s concern that smaller utilities in Alaska and throughout the country have more vulnerability due to inadequate training.


 

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