Lame Duck Congress Has Energy, Enviro Measures on Menu

November 15, 2016

TipSheet: Lame Duck Congress Has Energy, Enviro Measures on Menu

The "lame duck" session of the currently waning 114th Congress will be a chance for a) getting some bipartisan work done on energy and environmental legislation, b) finishing unfinished business, or c) mischief and stalemate.

Whatever the choice, there's not much time. Following the election recess, this week Congress will start work in hopes of accomplishing whatever it can before the next Congress opens Jan. 3, 2017.
Strategic maneuvering will abound. Things that don't get done quickly may wait many months for action in the next Congress. New chairmen and new members may want new approaches. Republicans, retaining control of both chambers, may have little incentive for last-minute compromises.
Here are some items to watch on the lame duck agenda:
  • The Water Resources Development Act (HR 5303, S 2848) authorizes a grab-bag of water-project goodies for many states and districts, and has the sort of bipartisan support many pork-barrel measures do. It authorizes about $10 billion in federal spending (subject to appropriations, with costs often shared by state and local interests). Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are both leaving their posts  —  and may have special motivation to finish in the lame duck. There is something in the measure for most large ports, as well as inland waterways like the Mississippi River. A complex deal reached before Congress recessed for the election promised to put aid money for the lead-contaminated Flint, Mich., drinking water system into the bill. Michiganders are nervous about whether the deal will hold up post-Trump. House and Senate must reconcile differing versions before it can be cleared for President Obama, who will probably sign it.

  • The "bipartisan" energy bill (HR 8, S 2012) has passed both chambers, and would be a candidate for enactment if House and Senate could agree and Obama could be induced to sign it. It is in formal conference, but House and Senate versions are far apart and quite different, with few signs yet of them being reconciled. Many provisions are efforts by Republicans and energy industries to counter Obama administration policies — e.g., easing permitting of pipelines and natural gas export facilities. The high likelihood of these Obama policies changing to industry's liking as President-elect Donald Trump takes office may reduce the urgency of finishing this bill.

  • The "Sportsmens Act" (HR 2406, S 659) is a collection of actions meant to win support from hunters and fishermen. Despite its sponsors "bipartisan" label, the bill is highly partisan, and passed the House by a 242-116 party-line vote. It allocates more federal conservation money to gun ranges, allows hunters to import polar bear parts, and preempts federal court protections for gray wolves. The Senate committee version exempts news media from permit and fee requirements for commercial filming on public lands (a provision supported by the Society of Environmental Journalists). Lack of Senate floor action makes it less likely for completion in this Congress.

  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a Pacific Rim trade deal backed by Obama and some Republicans, but opposed by environmentalists and Trump. Despite pre-election talk of a lame-duck push, it seems dead.

  • Appropriations are the lame-duck wild card. The current continuing resolution expires December 9, 2016. So a new one must pass to keep the government from shutting down. Must-pass appropriations bills have a way of becoming vehicles for all kinds of policy "riders" (often on energy and environmental issues). Republicans may decide to go with another short-term continuing resolution, punting controversies into the next Congress, which they will control.


* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 1, No. 3. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.
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