Comprehensive Senate Energy Bill Approved by Committee

Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

August 7, 2015 | Mark Elsesser

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 with bipartisan support (18-4 vote) last week, after three days of markup and the approval of several amendments. Both Republicans and Democrats issued press releases.

Included in the comprehensive package were portions of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s “E-Competes Act,” which authorizes 4 percent annual increases for DOE’s Office of Science and ARPA-E for five years. Additionally, the bill directs DOE to establish at least two partnerships – between industry, academia and national laboratories – for the research and development of exascale computing.

Other provisions in the bill that may be of interest to APS members include:
  • Helium: The U.S. government would continue its exit from the helium business. The bill would grant to the lessee of a natural gas well “a right of first refusal to engage in exploration for, and the development and production of, helium on land that is subject to the lease…” An accepted amendment offered by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) would require that environmental reviews for helium-related projects be completed on an expeditious basis.
  • Critical Minerals: Lisa Murkowski’s American Mineral Security Act of 2015 is included in the legislation. This section of the bill would establish R&D programs to promote efficient production, use and recycling of critical minerals and to develop alternatives. It would also call for the U.S. Geological Survey to establish forecasting capabilities for critical mineral reliance, recycling, price, etc., although the focus would be largely domestic. Additionally, Murkowski aims to reduce permitting time with a number of new requirements to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal permitting and review processes.
  • Energy Efficiency: Both parties tout the bill’s provisions to improve energy efficiency, including a smart buildings initiative and provisions of Portman-Shaheen. However, the bill also repeals several measures, such as the residential energy efficiency standards study and the procurement and identification of energy efficient products program.

Although the bill passing out of committee marks the first step of broad energy policy reform in eight years, putting too much stock into the legislation reaching the president’s desk is premature. There is no timetable for the bill to be heard on the Senate floor, and intel suggests several senators would require additional amendments to secure their votes. Additionally, the House is working on its own, less comprehensive, energy bill.

The APS Office of Public Affairs continues to track legislation impacting its membership and to advocate for their interests.

Policy news and viewpoints for the physics community. The analysis and opinions are those of the APS Office of Public Affairs and do not necessarily represent the entire Society.