The international climate negotiations in Paris – formally, the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21 –might have been the media focus the last two weeks, but Congress and the White House were quite busy with other energy matters.

First came Environmental Protection Agency’s overdue update to the Renewable Fuel Standard, a highly contested policy related to the blending of ethanol into the gasoline supply. The volumes of ethanol mandated by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act are no longer reasonable thanks to higher fuel-economy standards and decreased gasoline consumption. It’s no surprise that the latest limits – below the mandated levels and above blender-approved levels – have dissatisfied nearly every party involved in the debate.

The EPA can either follow the law or approve ethanol-blend targets that can be managed by fuel blenders and the existing automotive fleet. The RFS must be modified to make the blend targets more consistent with current fuel-use patterns or, better yet, overturn them completely.

The House and Senate approved two resolutions that would overturn the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. This was Congress’ forceful signal to the negotiators in Paris to make clear that the White House climate agenda faces an uphill battle domestically; the emissions reduction commitments the president made to international partners are by no means inevitable. Neither measure drew sufficient votes to overcome their inevitable veto, which means the rule will continue forward over the congressional objections.

The House passed H.R. 8, which would make necessary energy-policy updates across the areas of infrastructure, security, efficiency and other assorted topics of interest. Advanced by Energy & Commerce chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., it is the first broad energy package to move through the House since the energy boom. As such, it addresses specific vulnerabilities exposed by growing domestic energy production, particularly infrastructure-permitting processes and the antiquated artificial limits to exporting crude oil and natural gas. It also modernizes the treatment of hydropower, which has been largely left behind in the political debates over carbon-free energy, and advances the debate over cybersecurity and the electric grid.

The bill faces a veto threat from the White House, though it’s likely to see substantial changes when combined with a companion package moving through the Senate.

Finally, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, the latest highway bill, authorized the sale of 66 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to support the struggling Highway Trust Fund. Add to that the two additional sales included in last month’s Bipartisan Budget Act, and Congress has authorized the drawdown of 174 million barrels of oil to finance deficit reduction, spending and SPR modernization.

These authorized sales raise serious questions about the SPR. Does it continue to fulfill its role to safeguard the energy security of the United States, or has it transformed into a purse to support other priorities? Given the ongoing oil boom, is it necessary for either purpose?

The flurry of activity in the last two weeks highlights the dysfunctional nature of energy policy and politics. The EPA is either forced to advance outdated, destructive policies or willfully proposes new regulations well outside the authority it’s been granted by Congress. The White House and the legislature are starkly opposed on energy priorities across the board, even outside the clearly contentious greenhouse-gas agenda advanced by the president.

Instead of reevaluating clearly outdated policies, the executive and legislative branches manipulate them to serve new and roguish purposes. When the attention turns back to Washington, there is a deficit to make up in principled and sensible changes to energy policy.

Featured Publications