Senate Approves Energy, FAA Bills

Jim MyersGateHouse Media Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate handed lopsided victories last week to its first major energy bill in nearly a decade and a Federal Aviation Administration measure to enhance safety, promote drone technology and offer additional consumer protections to the flying public.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised passage of the energy bill that the Kentucky Republican said would help the U.S. meet its demands by expanding domestic supply, improving efficiency, addressing aging infrastructure and cutting needless red tape.

“This broad, bipartisan bill does all these things,” McConnell said.

“It builds on technological progress in order to strengthen and sustain America’s energy advances. It protects our environment at the same time. And it does all this without raising taxes or adding a dime to the deficit.”

As the first major energy package since the administration of George W. Bush, the bill grew out of a months-long bipartisan effort led by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Maria Cantwell of Washington, the panel’s top Democrat.

In a joint statement, Murkowski and Cantwell singled out provisions that would help save energy, facilitate electric grid modernization, enhance cybersecurity efforts, bolster mineral security, streamline the federal approval process for LNG exports and promote the development of hydropower, geothermal, methane hydrates.

They pointed out their bill also reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund while ensuring balance in the use of our nation’s federal lands.

At least part of the opposition to the bill focused on the government’s role on energy.

Senators approved the bill by a vote of 85 to 12 and sent it to the House, which has its own energy legislation.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., voted for the bill while Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., voted against it.

FAA bill flies

Another bipartisan effort by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Bill Nelson of Florida, the panel’s top Democrat, led to the bill that would reauthorize the FAA through fiscal year 2017.

Billed as passenger-friendly, the measure includes provisions to create a standard method for airlines to disclose fees for baggage and seat selection and require refunds when passengers fail to receive such services.

On drones, the bill would direct federal agencies to develop consensus standards for safety features, affirm that drone operations respect personal privacy, require all drone users pass an FAA-approved safety test and foster innovation by expanded case-by-case exemptions for beyond visual-line-of-sight operations as well as research for commercial purposes.

Senators passed the bill by a vote of 95 to 3 and sent it to the House, where its FAA proposal is pending.

Inhofe and Lankford voted for the bill.

House targets IRS

The House spent the week legislating on a favorite Republican target, the Internal Revenue Service.

“We know that the IRS cannot be trusted to police itself. That has been proven. Each time we uncover more problems, the IRS comes up with more excuses,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said.

House Democratic leadership dismissed the Republicans’ theme week as a waste of time.

“So, again, we’re doing not very much on the floor except grandstanding on the IRS while we’re ignoring inversions of corporations taking jobs overseas to avoid taxes in the United States, again, a misuse of the taxpayers’ time in terms of Congress of the United States,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said.

One measure would ban employee bonuses at the agency until the Treasury Department develops a customer service strategy approved by the inspector general.

That measure passed 260 to 158.

Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, Tom Cole, R-Moore, Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, and Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, supported the measure.