Bipartisan Group of Senators Releases Infrastructure Proposal as Bipartisan Agreement Seems Unlikely
On June 15, a bipartisan group of 20 Senators working on an infrastructure compromise unveiled their latest infrastructure offer: a $1 trillion proposal that includes $579 billion in new spending. Among numerous other items, the bipartisan group’s framework includes $73 billion for power infrastructure, $15 billion for electric vehicles, and $55 billion for water infrastructure. Proposals to pay for the plan include assessing an annual fee on electric vehicles and using direct payment municipal bonds, among other financing sources.
While it is not yet clear where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) or other GOP leaders stand on this package, it is unlikely that Democrats, particularly progressives, will be willing to accept this compromise due to the proposal’s focus only on physical infrastructure. Progressives have recently been ramping up pressure on the White House to forgo negotiations and move forward with a bill that includes significant climate change measures, with Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) stating that they would not vote for any package that does not include climate change provisions. The administration told lawmakers that negotiations would continue for 7-10 more days, after which Democrats should be prepared to move forward alone through use of Budget Reconciliation. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a critical swing vote and proponent of a bipartisan infrastructure solution, told reporters that he is willing to begin discussions about Reconciliation, indicating declining faith that a bipartisan agreement will be reached.
Meanwhile, Democrats are reportedly considering their own infrastructure package which would total up to $6 trillion, and would tentatively include some similar provisions to those outlined in the bipartisan framework. Democrats could also pass sections of this package separately if bipartisan agreement is reached without including some of their top priorities.
White House Releases Regulatory Agenda
On June 11, President Biden announced his regulatory agenda for the next several years, which sheds light on the administration’s priorities, including issues such as climate change and workers’ rights. Among other things, the agenda includes revisions to oil and gas leasing rules, which are expected to be proposed in May 2022, and a new definition of streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, which do not have an expected proposal date. The agenda also does not include a timeline for a new carbon dioxide rule for existing power plants, although EPA Administrator Michael Regan has indicated a desire to engage with industry prior to issuing a new rulemaking. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has a three-step plan featured relating to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules, with part one, which would begin to reverse the Trump administration’s update to NEPA rules, anticipated in July. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will likely propose new rules reversing the Trump administration’s policies for listing species and designating critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act, and the Department of Energy is slated to reverse several Trump-era rules relating to energy efficiency. Due to partisan gridlock in Congress, the administration’s regulatory agenda will be a key way for President Biden to enact his priorities without pushing them through the House and Senate first.
House Budget Chairman Introduces Budget Resolution
On June 14, House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-KY) introduced a measure, called a “deeming resolution,” that limits government funding to $1.5 trillion for the next fiscal year. This measure was approved in the House by a party-line vote, meaning that appropriators are now able to begin working on annual spending bills. The funding levels match those laid out in President Biden’s Budget Request, increasing domestic budget accounts by 16.5% and defense accounts by 1.6%. The deeming resolution comes as lawmakers have just 15 weeks before current government funding levels run out on Sept. 30. Republican lawmakers have criticized Democrats for passing the deeming resolution without debate, stating that Democrats are shirking their responsibility and that introduction of the resolution lacked transparency. Several lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee are reportedly pessimistic about the likelihood of passing a budget by Sept. 30 and are preparing to keep the government funded with another stopgap funding measure.
Energy and Interior Secretaries Testify before Senate Committees
The Secretaries of Energy and Interior both testified before the Senate during the week of June 14. On June 15, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm spoke on the Department of Energy’s FY22 budget in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Granholm was questioned on her agency’s commitment to pipeline security, as well as implementation and funding for programs authorized in the Energy Act of 2020. Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) criticized what he felt were low funding levels in the Department of Energy’s carbon capture and advanced nuclear research. Granholm noted that there could be opportunities for funding through the forthcoming infrastructure package the White House has been promoting for Congressional consideration this summer. In addition, Granholm faced scrutiny about the Biden administration’s plans for storage of nuclear waste, to which she replied that the process of identifying willing communities to take on the waste will begin next month.
The Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee questioned Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland about her agency’s FY22 budget on June 16. Much of the hearing focused on the pause in oil and gas leasing as the Biden administration reviews the program.
House E&C Advances Bipartisan Grid Security Bills
On June 10, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a markup on several pieces of cybersecurity legislation, and approved three bipartisan bills to help secure the nation’s electric grid. One of the bills, the “Cyber Sense Act of 2021,” (H.R. 2928) sponsored by Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA), would direct the Secretary of Energy to establish a voluntary Cyber Sense program to develop a testing process as well as test the cybersecurity of products and technologies to be used in the bulk-power system. Another, the “Energy Emergency Leadership Act,” (H.R. 3119) sponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Tim Walberg (R-MI), would require the Secretary of Energy to assign energy emergency and energy security functions to an Assistant Secretary, including responsibilities within the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). The third bill, the “Enhancing Grid Security through Public-Private Partnerships Act,” (H.R. 2931) sponsored by Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA), would direct DOE to implement programs to address cybersecurity-related vulnerabilities to the electric grid and provide technical assistance and improve information sharing for electric utilities.
These grid security bills, which were approved by voice vote without amendment, had been unanimously passed by the House in the last Congressional Session, but were never considered by the Senate.
House Homeland Security Subcommittee Hold Hearing on Lessons Learned from Colonial Pipeline Attack
On June 15, two House Homeland Security Subcommittees held a joint hearing entitled, ”Cyber Threats in the Pipeline: Lessons from the Federal Response to the Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack.” During the hearing, witness Sonya Proctor, Assistant Administrator for Surface Operations at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), announced that TSA is developing a second directive for pipeline companies that would include specific mitigation measures and assessment requirements. It will be considered a Sensitive Security Information directive and would have the force of regulation. The Department of Homeland Security released its first directive in May, which requires pipeline companies to report cybersecurity incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The issuance of mandatory security directives is a significant shift from the voluntary guidelines and reporting practices prior to the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack.
Committee members during the hearing also discussed the administration’s choice of designating the Department of Energy as the lead agency in responding to the Colonial Pipeline attack. Members from both sides of the aisle expressed concerns that DOE was selected to take the lead in managing pipeline cyber and ransomware attack response efforts and asked CISA to clarify how the Administration determines which agency is responsible for cyber incident response efforts. Last month, the full Committee passed the Pipeline Security Act that would make the TSA the lead federal entity responsible for pipeline security against cyberattacks and other threats.