This week in Washington: Dec. 5-9

Most work focused on funding continuing resolution before Dec. 9 deadline, while energy bill conference agreement still in the works.

Both chambers of Congress remain in Washington after a brief recess for Thanksgiving. Congress is focusing on wrapping up the continuing resolution, said to extend funding through April 2017, which will need to be passed by Friday at midnight to keep the federal government open.

Renewable energy advocates are hoping to get an extension of several clean and renewable energy tax credits by adding provisions in a continuing resolution expected before Dec. 9. “Prospects for that package are bleak,” the 25 x 25 group said.

On Wednesday at 10 a.m., the House Agriculture Committee will hold its final hearing of this Congress. It will be a full committee hearing titled "1890 Land-Grant Institutions: Recruitment Challenges & Scholarship Opportunities." To watch live, click here.

Also on Wednesday at 10 a.m. the House Committee on Energy & Commerce will host a hearing on the waste and duplication in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Catfish Inspection Program. To watch live, click here.

With two weeks left in this session, hope remains for the passage of an energy bill that still has something to offer renewable energy interests, including a provision maintaining biomass as "carbon neutral."

Energy bill 

However, prospects are about nil for the extension of several number of renewable energy tax credits set to expire at the end of this year, but were "orphaned" when Congress passed a broad package of business tax credits late last year.

If passed, the Energy Modernization Act will be smaller and contain fewer potentially controversial provisions than the version passed by the Senate last summer. Reports from Washington indicate House and Senate conference committee staff and members are continuing to seek some agreement so versions of an energy bill passed by both chambers can be merged and ultimately brought to the floor for a vote.

Senate Energy Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), who have worked relentlessly to get bipartisan energy through Congress this year, issued a joint statement on the ongoing negotiations, noting they had received a counteroffer on the energy bill conference report from the House colleagues.

The Senate leaders said they reviewed the House proposal and responded with a new offer "that restores a host of provisions that the House was prepared to drop," including a provision that proposes biomass be deemed "carbon neutral."

Sponsors say the language, which was added to the Senate version of energy bill by a widely bipartisan vote, recognizes that sustainably produced and managed biomass can offer valuable clean energy contributions and important carbon sequestration services to mitigate climate change. The designation also would offer harmony to what are currently 13 different definitions of biomass in various laws and regulations, and allow for the full potential of bioenergy solutions, advocates say.

Other provisions the Senate energy panel leaders reinstated include those related to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, hydropower, natural gas pipelines, manufacturing, innovation and critical minerals. The two senators said they also "remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached on provisions to address California's drought crisis, to remedy wildfire funding challenges, and to improve forest management.

"While neither of us supports every provision in this proposal, it is the result of good faith bipartisan negotiations, it encompasses the broad range of work that can be completed this year, and it balances competing preferences for energy and resource policy that will remain just as strong in the next Congress," Murkowski and Cantwell said. "We encourage our House colleagues to seize this opportunity to complete a good bill that we can send to the president’s desk before Congress adjourns."

The energy bill passed by the House drew a veto threat from the White House and leaders in the lower chamber said earlier this year they were ready to work with Senate negotiators to pass a bill devoid of any language that would draw a rejection form the president. If a measure does pass, it would be the first major energy bill to be adopted by Congress since 2007.

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