By Nicholas Vandenbos
With a vote of 85-12, the Senate on Wednesday passed Senate Bill 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016. The bill now goes before the House, which has already passed a significantly different version, one that President Obama has threatened to veto. Sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R Alaska), the Senate bill would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to “revise or prescribe requirements for loan and loan guarantee incentives for innovative technologies,” and would “establish an e-prize competition or challenge pilot program to implement community and regional energy solutions to reduce energy costs in high-cost regions.”
Broad energy issues aside, the bill contains a number of public land related measures. Noteworthy among these is a provision that would permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Fund, which directs up to $900M of offshore oil and gas leasing revenues to federal and state conservation projects, was allowed to expire for the first time in its 50-year history last October before being reauthorized for a term of three years in a last-minute spending bill in December. In Montana, the PLRLR’s home state, the Fund has provided more than $11.4M since 2011 alone. In Utah, home of republican representative Rob Bishop, the architect of the Fund’s short-lived demise, that number is closer to $12M.
Also attached to Sen. Murkowski’s bill is a measure known as the Sportsmen’s Act, legislation designed to open federal land to recreational users. Federal lands make up broad swathes of the American West, but are often locked in by private landowners who block public access across their lands. The Sportsmen’s Act would direct the Forest Service and BLM to identify problem areas of this sort and work to develop public access plans. The legislation is not without its critics, some of whom oppose the inclusion of a provision exempting lead ammunition and tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Finally, another rider would create two new wilderness areas in New Mexico’s Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, while yet another would implement the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act, which would provide much-needed funding for the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, a long-term water management effort. That plan is the product of years of negotiation between stakeholders in Central Washington’s Yakima Basin, and aims to both improve river flows, habitat, and fish passage as well as increase water storage.
 S. 2012 – Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, Summary (https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/2012) (last viewed Apr. 23, 2016).