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Environment & Energy Report

Senate Panel Approves Energy Secretary Nominee, Energy Bills (1)

Nov. 19, 2019, 4:48 PMUpdated: Nov. 19, 2019, 5:55 PM

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Nov. 19 moved along three Trump administration nominees: Dan Brouillette, tapped for Energy Secretary; James Danly, to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and Katharine MacGregor, picked as deputy secretary for the Interior Department.

The committee also approved more than a dozen clean energy, conservation, and advanced energy research bills, many of which could be bundled together in either smaller packages or a sweeping energy package on the Senate floor in the months ahead.

The measures included boosting geothermal and solar energy sources and a key U.S. energy research agency known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy.

Now the Energy Department’s No. 2 official, Brouillette would take over from Rick Perry if confirmed. Perry plans to leave by Dec. 1.

Brouillette worked at Energy as an assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs during the George W. Bush administration. He also was staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In the private sector, Brouillette was a senior executive in the policy office of Ford Motor Co. and at the United Services Automobile Association, a financial services provider.

President Donald Trump picked Danly in September for a Republican slot at the agency that was vacant since the death of former Chairman Kevin McIntyre in January. Danly’s nomination angered Democrats because it wasn’t accompanied by the announcement of a Democrat pick at the same time, as has been the custom.

MacGregor, currently the deputy chief of staff for Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, has been functioning as acting deputy secretary. She joined the department in January 2017 as principal deputy assistant Interior secretary overseeing land and minerals management.

Parks Legislation

Among the first bills reported Nov. 19 was the Restore Our Parks Act, introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). The bill (S. 500), approved in committee 15-5, seeks to tackle a growing maintenance backlog at national parks. The committee, by a vote of 13-7, also approved a measure (S. 1081) to provide permanent money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has long had bipartisan support.

The outlook for Senate floor consideration of the energy measures is unclear. Some of the energy measures will likely be stitched together, either in a small batch of bills or a more sweeping energy package, for floor consideration in the months ahead, Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told Bloomberg Environment last week.

“What I’m trying to do is put together enough pieces on the table so that when that time is right, we can see what can be pulled together” for a vote on the floor, she said. “It may be that small is going to be better than big.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund bill, introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), was opposed by Murkowski, who also holds the gavel at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

Murkowski and other appropriators have raised concerns that the bill would threaten their ability to set annual funding for the fund, which is authorized at $900 million a year.

The committee rejected an amendment by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to give states authority to approve federal purchases of land under the conservation fund. His amendment failed 8-12.

The energy panel also voted 12-8 to support a bill (S. 2418) to amend the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 to extend revenue sharing from offshore drilling for the first time to Alaska. The bill would also expand support to the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. The funding is typically used for coastal restoration.

The committee also approved by voice vote a measure from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) (S. 2714) to reauthorize the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy program, which conducts research on next-generation energy technologies.

Other measures the committee approved by voice vote included:

  • A bill (S. 2556) by Murkowski to boost investments in energy-related cybersecurity protections, including a grant and technical assistance program. The Protecting Resources on the Electric Grid With Cybersecurity Technology (PROTECT) Act backs increased use of hardware and software to help public utilities better protect the grid.
  • A bill (S. 2657) to boost incentives for geothermal research and development, the Advanced Geothermal Innovation Leadership Act, also introduced by Murkowski.
  • A bill (S. 2668) from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to direct the Energy Department to create a solar energy technology program. The Solar Energy Research and Development Act would direct the energy secretary to award grants for conducting research, development, and testing of solar energy technologies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com