Congress’ legislative agenda presents real opportunities, and some threats, for public power. The outlook remains murky largely because the ultimate outcome of the 2020 elections remains unresolved as of this writing. However, the results we do know have narrowed the possibilities for the legislative outlook for 2021.
House Democrats would like to tackle a host of issues, including continued COVID-19 relief, health care, climate change, and a comprehensive infrastructure bill to stimulate the economy. But lacking a robust majority to push through such an agenda, these priorities will likely be pared back in scope. House Democrats may initially seek to move legislation that could be considered in the Senate, such as an infrastructure package.
EVs in infrastructure
One possible area of action is infrastructure legislation, with both Congress and the White House interested in action. The same had been true in the past few years, but other priorities, and then partisanship, spoiled the chances of moving ahead with legislation. The keystone to any broad infrastructure bill will be a reauthorization of federal highway programs, and electric vehicles will certainly be a consideration in any such bill. Public power utilities are committed to providing their communities with the infrastructure and programs needed to support increased EV adoption. We will make the case that, insofar as Congress seeks to encourage the use of EVs, it should ensure that any such incentives are available to public power utilities and their customers.
There is a good chance that two of the American Public Power Association’s top priorities could be included in an infrastructure bill: reinstatement of tax-exempt advance refunding bonds and an increase in the small issuer exception from $10 million to $30 million. Democrats will likely contend that a wide-ranging infrastructure bill should include energy infrastructure. In such a discussion, APPA will push for public power utilities to be able to obtain comparable incentives to others in the energy sector.
Congress is also likely to continue passing legislation to help the U.S. respond to, and recover from, the pandemic. APPA continues to push for the creation of a forgivable loan program, where utilities that forgo shutoffs can borrow to cover their costs and see loan amounts forgiven after the emergency has passed. Additionally, APPA has worked closely with multiple stakeholders to seek funding increases for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, where need has outstripped what has been appropriated. We are also working with other trade groups and coalitions to encourage additional aid to state and local governments and greater flexibility in using existing funds.
Clean energy technologies
The House might consider climate change legislation or other policies to promote clean energy. We expect the House and Senate to work on bipartisan areas of agreement, such as on the development of clean energy technologies. APPA will continue to educate leaders on the Hill on all public power is doing to reduce its emissions and to provide feedback on climate and clean energy legislation. APPA will push for policies that keep electricity affordable, reliable, and sustainable.
While Congress’ agenda might be unclear, APPA’s is not. We intend to continue outreach and engagement with our members, policymakers, and other stakeholder groups to ensure that your voice and priorities are heard in Washington, D.C. To accomplish our goals, we need you to take four key actions:
- Continue your efforts to build and deepen relationships with congressional delegations.
- Provide us timely feedback on legislative proposals or requests for information.
- Share real-world stories of how policies are affecting or will affect your utility and community.
- Flag any additional critical issues for us to address as a collective.