Potential Game Changer

The new Republican Congress will likely make changes to federal renewable energy policies.
By Anna Austin | February 22, 2011

Significantly different than the 111th Congress, the new Republican-controlled 112th Congress will likely implement many changes to the country’s renewable energy policies. This is largely because there are different committee leaders, many new members and key staff in positions relevant to the renewable energy and biomass sector, and that Obama is moving to the middle in preparation for 2012 elections, according to Patrick Rita, founder and principal of Orion Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based government relations consulting firm.

Rita explained his outlook during a webinar held by the Biomass Thermal Energy Council in January.
 A priority of the new Congress will be oversight, according to Rita. “Already, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power Ed Whitfield from Kentucky, a coal-state legislator, is expected to summon [U.S.] EPA to the hill shortly to defend their efforts to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,” he said. “That issue will be hotly debated with lots of legislation already in the hopper.”
Another key issue will be how new energy programs are funded. “Under the Democratic-controlled Congress, funding for programs was pay as you go,” Rita said. “The funding mechanism now will be spending cuts identified in existing programs.”

So what can such a divided government produce? Not any sort of sweeping climate and energy laws like we saw in the 111th Congress, according to Rita. “What we’re seeing is some real interest in the concept of a clean energy standard, unlike a renewable energy standard, it would include coal carbon capture and storage technology, nuclear power, natural gas and the like.” 

Tax reform is also a priority, Rita said. “We’re hearing there is an effort to get back to the concept of moving away from tax incentives that attempt to pick winners and losers, and more toward an outcome-based tax policy. ”

Rita said it appears as though the 1603 Program will not be renewed for 2012, and the Farm Bill will be heavy-laden with renewable energy programs such as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. The definition of biomass will also be at large, he said, and boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology will continue to take center stage. “The EPA was granted a one-month reprieve, and we don’t know what the reconsideration process will yield, but the EPA will be exploring a legislative fix,” he said. “A major issue coming down the pipe is the utility MACT, and I think that will have a major effect on all players in the renewable energy space.” 

—Anna Austin