1. The House passed, in a 326-96 vote, a stopgap spending bill, H.R. 2028, that would keep the government funded only through April 28, 2017. The compromise extension is intended to give President-elect Donald Trump more say over the final spending bills for the current fiscal year. Several NECA priority issues such as authorization for composite pension plans, energy tax extenders, and a change in how the FEC regulates Political Action Committees, all were deferred on until the next Congress begins its session on January 3, 2017.
NECA’s Look Ahead: It was hoped that final agreed-upon language on composite plans would be included in the final deal, but a showdown occurred over including funds for retired mineworkers’ health care and pension plans and the House would not agree. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he will hold up passage of the bill in the Senate, but it is unlikely he will get enough Senators to agree with him. The investment tax credit extension for new technologies such as fuel cells, combined heat and power, small wind, microturbines, and geothermal were not included because House negotiators want to address these issues during comprehensive tax reform next year. NECA will continue to push for swift action on these issues in the 115th Congress.
2. After two full years of legislative action and several more years of debate, House leaders also ran the clock out on negotiating a NECA-supported comprehensive energy bill, angering many on both sides of the political and policy spectrum.
NECA’s Look Ahead: The energy bill conference took a seemingly endless series of unusual twists and turns over the past six months, during which a bill that was intended to address a broad range of outdated federal energy policies essentially turned into multiple frustrations over issues on the natural resources side of the committees' jurisdiction. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was apoplectic over a statement issued by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), where he claimed the two chambers had failed to resolve "various outstanding issues." Indeed, there was agreement on multiple items, including energy efficiency provisions, performance metrics for electricity infrastructure providers, including identification of tools and resources that may enable improved grid performance, modifying the definition of renewable energy to include thermal energy, establishing a 21st Century Energy Workforce Advisory Board focused on training for energy & manufacturing jobs, and a host of other issues. NECA will ask that conferees agree to move on this bill when the new Congress returns in January.
3. In a bit of good news, Congress did come to an agreement on a water resources and water infrastructure bill, now known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WINN) Act.
NECA’s Look Ahead: The bill authorizes $10.3 billion in federal funds for 30 new Army Corps of Engineers flood control, harbor dredging, environmental restoration and other projects. In addition, the package authorizes $150 million for drinking-water systems, of which $100 million would go for upgrades to aging or contaminated lines in cities like Flint, MI. The language also includes “sense of Congress” language calling for $20 million to support federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans. Those loans could help finance drinking-water or other water-related projects.