Energy & Innovation – A New Congress, A New Day

Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in education, research, science, agriculture, energy, environment and natural resources, and intellectual property. 

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Capitol News: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions

  • CONGRESS: Congressional Committees; Nuclear Waste; Offshore Energy; NRC; Maj. Leader Cantor; Murkowski & Energy; Democrats and Climate Science; Hearings & Events
  • Administration & independent agencies: SOTU; Appointments; Cellulosic Fuels; FutureGen; Nuclear Waste Storage; Renewables on Federal Lands.  

Noteworthy News: Wasted Research Funds; Renewables Financing; Innovation Location; Babbitt; RFS

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.

Capitol News


Congressional Committees

  • House Appropriations.  The House Democrats announced membership and Ranking Members on the Appropriations Committee subcommittees.  Most notably for this blog, the Ranking Members are: Farr (CA) – Agriculture; Fattah (PA) – Commerce, Science Justice; Visclosky (IN) – Defense; Kaptur (OH) – Energy; Moran (VA) – Interior
  • House Science. The House Science Committee held a hearing, “American Competitiveness: The Role of Research and Development,” which examined several science and technology policy issues and recommendations to expand and continue American’s economic competitiveness through federal R&D innovations.
  • Chairman Smith, in an opinion piece in Roll Call, outlined the Chairman’s vision for the Science Committee.  He called for a science-driven agenda that embraces and promotes support for basic research.  Specifically, he wrote: “the top priorities of the committee will be to promote legislation that encourages scientific discoveries, space exploration and the development of new technologies.”  Expect the Committee to spend time on NASA and develop energy R&D legislation.

Nuclear Waste.  Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Energy Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Alexander, Ranking of the Senate Energy Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Murkowski, Ranking on the Senate Energy Committee, have joined forces with the new Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Senator Wyden (D-OR) to work on a legislative solution to the nuclear waste problem in the US, as reported in The Wall Street Journal.  Unlike his predecessor, Senator Bingaman, Senator Wyden appears to be more open to a temporary storage solution without a solution to a permanent solution.

Offshore Energy.  In a bid to increase support for off-shore energy exploration and development, the Chairman Wyden and Ranking Member Murkowski of the Senate Energy Committee are working on a bill to increase revenues for states. The states would receive some of the revenues now going to the federal government for all types of energy revenues, including oil & gas and wind.  Wyden’s predecessor, Senator Bingaman, had opposed the revenue sharing with states.

Senate Republicans on NRC – Following House lead.  Several Senate Republicans, including Environment & Public Works Ranking Member Vitter (R-LA), following the lead of House Republicans, sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Chairwoman Macfarlane expressing concern with NRC’s fast speed in issuing safety upgrade rules following the disaster in Japan.

Cantor on Research.  In Majority Leader Cantor’s recent Make Life Work speech, he discussed his views on research, giving a mixed message for the research community. As reported by Inside Higher Education, he called for called for ending “federal funding for research that goes beyond basic medicine” specifically, eliminating funding for research in the social sciences.

Murkowski Energy Blue Print.  Senate Energy Committee Ranking Member Murkowski (R-AK) released an energy blue print called Energy 20/20 that outlines her goals for the next seven years (policies for the year 2020). The blue print describes seven main categories: producing more, consuming less, clean energy technology, energy delivery infrastructure, effective government, environmental responsibility and “an energy policy that pays for itself.”  Not surprisingly, it provides support for traditional fossil fuels, reduced regulation, expedited permitting, increased production, infrastructure investments, as well as R&D.

House Democrats Want Science.  The Democrats on the House Energy Committee offered amendments to require the Committee to hold hearings on climate change and the science behind it. The amendments were rejected in party-line votes during a Committee organizational business meeting. The Committee will hold additional organizational meetings next week at which Democrats plan to offer more amendments.

Congressional Hearings & Events

  • House Energy and Commerce Committee:
  1. Our Nation of Builders (on manufacturing) February 14, 2013
  2. The State of Protecting Our Environment Under Current Law February 15, 2013.
  • House Science Committee:
  1. Subcommittee on Energy – American Energy Outlook: Technology, Market, and Policy Drivers  February 13, 2013
  2. The State of Environment: Evaluating Progress and Priorities February 14, 2013
  3. Applications for Information Technology Research & Development February 14, 2013
  • Senate Energy Committee.  Opportunities and Challenges for Natural Gas February 12, 2013
  • Bicameral Climate Change Caucus.  Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) and Congressman Waxman (D-CA) formed the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force “dedicated to focusing Congressional and public attention on climate change and developing effective policy responses.”

Administration & Independent Agencies:

State of the Union: Tuesday, February 12.

Administration Appointments.  President Obama is slowly announcing his replacements for Cabinet and high-ranking officials for his second term.  He recently nominated Sally Jewell, president and chief executive officer of Recreational Equipment Inc., to replace Secretary Salazar as Secretary of the Interior. The National Journal maintains a list of prospects for each position.  Some top contenders emerging for the key positions include:

Commerce – Penny Pritzker; Energy – MIT’s Ernest Moniz; EPA Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation; OMB Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who heads the Walmart Foundation.

With the departure of NSF Director Suresh to become President of Carnegie Mellon University, the President will need another replacement for a science-research agency.

EPA & Cellulosic Fuels. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed that refiners use 14 million gallons of cellulosic fuels this year, on the belief that the fuel would finally be commercially available.  A recent Appeals Court decision found that EPA is improperly setting goals in absence of a commercial available supply (prior posting?).  The proposal covers over renewables, including biomass-based and advanced biofuels, for a total of 16.55 billion gallons, as outlined in EPA’s press release. It is not clear that the fuel will be available in time for this goal to be met.

FutureGen.  DOE announced that the controversial project to demonstrate carbon capture and storage, called FutureGen, is moving forward with preliminary designs and engineering.  The success of the project may boost the continued use of coal if it can successfully lead to “clean coal.”  The project has seen its share of ups and downs, with support revived by the Obama Administration after almost ending under the Bush Administration.

Nuclear Waste Storage.  The race to find a permanent repository site is on.  According to reports by E&E News, DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Lyons said that representatives of four governors have expressed interest in hosting a temporary or permanent site, but he only named New Mexico. As reported in a previous posting, the Administration is proposing having a temporary site by 2025 and a permanent repository by 2048.

Renewables on Federal Lands.  Interior announced that plans to push for federal permitting of over 20 renewable projects on federal lands, including projects for wind, geothermal, and solar.  The Bureau of Land Management hopes to approve the projects in an expedited manner so they can build in the next two years.


Wasted Research Funds.  According to a new report by researchers at Virginia Tech and Duke University on federal grants since 1985, federal agencies are providing duplicative funding for some research projects. Although the authors of the report want the findings to be used to improve grant distribution, not but agencies’ budgets, it is likely some in DC will argue that fraud justifies cutting R&D budgets.

Financing for Renewables.  The wind and solar industries are pushing for the same tax benefits enjoyed by the oil & gas industry to allow them to raise funds in the same manner, according to The New York Times.  This would enable the renewable industries to benefit from lower financing costs.  There appears to be some Congressional support for the new financing structure, according to The Times, which sites a letter from 31 Members, including Senators Murkowski and Moran (R-KA), likely in an effort to preserve these tax structures for the oil & gas industry.

Innovation Location.  According to a new report Patent Prosperity: Invention and Economic Performance in the United States and its Metropolitan Areas by the Brookings Institution, reached several conclusions, including that: federally funded patents tend to be very high quality; research universities and highly-educated workforce drive metropolitan innovation; most patents come from people in 20 metro areas.

Babbitt on Management.  Former Interior Secretary Babbitt criticized the Administration’s zeal for allowing development on public lands by the oil and gas industry, calling it lopsided, according to E&E.  He called for an acre of federal lands be permanently protected for every acre leased.

Renewable Fuels Fights.  As mentioned in multiple postings previously, the war over the renewable fuel standards (RFS) is not on party lines, but primarily geographical.  Other unusual coalitions have engaged in the battle as well.  As reported by E&E, tax reform groups, environmentalist, oil refiners, and hunger groups have joined forces to argue against the RFS.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):

Past Events (listed by date):




2 thoughts on “Energy & Innovation – A New Congress, A New Day

  1. Pingback: Sequestration Looming; Energy Booming | FEDERAL POLICY WEEK


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