E&E News: Panel approves LWCF, parks, revenue-sharing bills

A Senate panel this morning approved legislation to provide permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, reform offshore drilling revenue sharing and tackle the multibillion-dollar backlog in national parks.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also reported out a flurry of bills that would boost funding for Department of Energy research and increase the department's focus on clean energy technologies.

In addition, the committee approved the administration's nominations for Energy secretary, Interior deputy secretary and a seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (see related story).

Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she hopes the energy bills in particular will provide the "contours" of promising measures for inclusion into a bigger energy package at some point.

She opposed the LWCF legislation — after briefly accidentally voting aye before changing her vote — because she said the appropriator in her "still has concerns over permanent and mandatory funding" for the popular conservation program.

But Murkowski noted that she is a supporter in general of LWCF. "The vote today showed a strong showing for LWCF writ large," the Alaska Republican said.

Murkowski said the committee will have another markup before the end of the year, likely in early or mid-December, on other legislation.


The panel voted 13-7 to advance the LWCF bill, S. 1081, which would provide full, permanent funding for LWCF at its current annual authorized level of $900 million.

The legislation, which has a companion bill in the House, would allow offshore oil and gas revenues deposited into the fund to be spent without being subject to the appropriations process.

Four Republicans — Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Steve Daines of Montana, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona — voted with Democrats and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) to support the measure.

"It is extremely important that we get this bipartisan legislation signed into law," said Daines.

Conservation groups praised the panel's passage of LWCF but urged committee Republicans to continue fighting for it. "Today's committee vote is a positive first step," said Will Goodwin, director of government relations at the Vet Voice Foundation, in a statement.

"But it was just that — a first step. Despite the charade of support for our public lands displayed by Senators Daines, McSally, and Gardner, the reality is if they really wanted to see LWCF through — if they really were fighters for our public lands — they'd march down to Leader McConnell's office and demand a floor vote," Goodwin said.

Montana Conservation Voters Deputy Director Whitney Tawney said the group was "pleased to see Sen. Daines is a co-sponsor of the LWCF bill," but she added that Montanans "deserve a full-time public lands champion who delivers on his promises" to attain full funding for LWCF. The group has criticized Daines for not asking for the full $900 million in a letter to appropriators earlier this year.

The group has criticized Daines for calling for "at least $600 million" for LWCF — as opposed to the full $900 million — in fiscal 2020 in a May letter to his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee.

Other Montana groups, including Montana Trout Unlimited, praised Daines for his "steadfast" support for bringing LWCF from permanent authorization to full, permanent funding.

Lawmakers rejected 8-12 an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would allow input from localities on federal land acquisition in their states.

Parks maintenance backlog

The committee voted 15-5 on the "Restore Our Parks Act," S. 500. The legislation, shepherded by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Alexander and King, would establish a five-year fund using unallocated revenue from onshore and offshore energy production to upgrade infrastructure in national parks.

The Interior Department's eye-popping deferred maintenance backlog in 2018 was more than $18 billion — about $12 billion of which is in National Park Service tracts. Some lawmakers, however, are leery of the "mandatory funding" in the "Restore Our Parks" bill.

The House's "Restore Our Parks Act" is similar to the Senate bill but would go further to address the maintenance backlog on public lands managed by other Interior agencies, not just the National Park Service.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) offered an amendment, which he withdrew, that would add the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management to the legislation, like the House bill.

"I hope this issue is addressed before this is considered before the whole Senate," Heinrich said.

Six Republican senators — Alexander, Daines, Gardner, John Hoeven of North Dakota, McSally and Murkowski — voted with Democrats and King for the legislation.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the lead sponsor of the legislation in the lower chamber, said last week that he was planning to meet with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday to discuss the proposal. Bishop has been pushing for a floor vote before the end of this year.

"Today's vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is yet another sign of the overwhelming public and congressional support to fix our parks. It's now up to leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives to advance the bipartisan 'Restore Our Parks' legislation," said Marcia Argust, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' project to restore America's parks.

Revenue sharing

The committee approved 12-8 S. 2418, the "Conservation of America's Shoreline Terrain and Aquatic Life Act," which would amend the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act to reverse the current cost-share agreement between coastal states and the federal government, providing a larger share to Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. King, who caucuses with Democrats, voted with Republicans on the measure.

Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the coastal state share of offshore oil and gas revenue would increase to 50%, while the portion going to the U.S. Treasury would fall to 37.5%.

The panel approved 17-3 an amendment from Lee and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming that would eliminate the 2% administrative collection fee charged to oil- and gas-producing states as part of their revenue-sharing agreement, giving states the full 50% mandated under the law.

League of Conservation Voters Legislative Representative Laura Forero said the group was "disappointed" by the panel's passage of the "COASTAL Act," "as this bill would further incentivize oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Alaska, exacerbating the risks of devastating oil spills on coastal communities and increasing carbon pollution."

Clean energy research

The committee also approved by voice vote 12 energy bills:

  • S. 2714, from Alexander and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), which would eventually increase the funding authorization level for DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to $750 million. That would more than double its current operating budget.
  • S. 2668, from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), to update DOE's solar research office.
  • S. 2657, from Murkowski and Manchin, to bolster geothermal research.
  • S. 2556, from Murkowski, to direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and DOE to take more active steps to promote cybersecurity in the electric sector.
  • S. 2425, from King, to spread the reach of DOE partnerships with combined heat and power technology deployment.
  • S. 2702, from Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), to create an Integrated Energy Systems Program within DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy to promote the research and development of nuclear hybrid energy systems.
  • S. 876, from Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), to mandate a new program to help train veterans in energy-related jobs.
  • S. 2508 from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to establish an Energy Jobs Council to collect and analyze clean energy labor statistics.
  • S. 2368, from Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), to bolster DOE research into nuclear plant life extension to help maintain the existing nuclear fleet.
  • S. 2688, from Cassidy, to establish an Office of Technology Transitions within DOE to help in the commercialization of technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • S. 1739, from Duckworth, to boost apprenticeship programs that are focused on serving the skilled technical workforce at the national laboratories and certain facilities of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • S. 2799, from Murkowski, to require the Energy and Interior secretaries to create a joint Nexus of Energy and Water Sustainability Office. The issue has also been a priority for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

By:  Kellie Lunney
Source: E&E News