April 21, 2016
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved an energy overhaul bill that includes provisions benefiting Idaho National Laboratory nuclear research efforts.
The Energy Policy Modernization Act — which passed on an 85-12 vote — also permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling to fund conservation projects. The fund has helped pay for a number of Idaho projects over the last 50 years, from parks to conservation easements, but its survival had been temporarily threatened last year.
The bill includes the first large-scale energy policy changes backed by the Senate in nearly a decade. It has language encouraging more wind and solar power, along with hydropower and geothermal. It also would push “clean-coal” technology, including projects that capture carbon dioxide from those power plants, the Associated Press reported.
The Senate bill now must be reconciled with a more fossil fuel-centric House version that President Barack Obama threatened to veto last year.
For eastern Idaho, perhaps the most important part of the Senate bill is a provision backed by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo that would require the U.S. Department of Energy and INL to assist private nuclear innovators in developing next-generation nuclear reactors.
The DOE and Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be directed to work together in establishing a “National Nuclear Innovation Center,” which Crapo “envisions being based at INL,” a news release said.
“This overwhelmingly bipartisan vote affirms the importance of nuclear research and power production as part of our domestic energy portfolio,” Crapo said in a statement. “This vote also pays tribute to the value of the talented men and women working at INL and other national labs.”
Crapo also is backing a measure separate from the energy bill that would develop an updated framework for the NRC to quickly license advanced reactor designs in the coming years. Crapo pitched that measure as good for INL. It was set to be considered Thursday by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The other key part of the Senate energy bill for Idaho is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which had expired last year for the first time in its 50-year history.
It was offered short-term reprieve in an omnibus spending bill, but the Senate legislation would give the fund long-term security. The fund has helped pay for more than $250 million in Idaho conservation projects over the years.