Senate bill includes permanent reauthorization of conservation fund

by Collin Szewczyk, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

United States Sen. Bennet had big influence on the Energy Policy Modernization Act

The U.S Senate passed a bipartisan energy bill on Tuesday that includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), an aspect that was championed by Colo. Sen. Michael Bennet.

The Energy Policy Modernization Act, which was introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ark., and Marie Cantwell, D-Wash., was approved in the Senate, 85-12, on Wednesday.

The bill was augmented with amendments sponsored by Bennet that also would: preserve land in the Arapaho and Pike national forests near Rocky Mountain National Park; help homeowners attain mortgages that factor energy-efficiency measures into their borrowing allotment; and reimburse funds to Colorado that were used to keep national parks open during the 2013 government shutdown.

LWCF would receive permanent reauthorization

The LWCF has helped to fund the creation of numerous parks and trails in the Roaring Fork Valley over the years since its inception in 1965. On the federal level, it focuses on land acquisition, especially private inholdings located within national parks and forests.

Under the Energy Policy Modernization Act, that program would be authorized for funding in perpetuity.

The LWCF was allowed to expire last year as Congress bickered over a temporary funding measure to keep the government operating. It uses revenues from offshore oil and gas extraction to support conservation efforts protecting land and water. It’s supposed to claim around $900 million in revenues annually, but that figure varies greatly as Congress often reappropriates its funding elsewhere.

Colorado reimbursed for funding national park

The National Park Access Act, which was introduced by Bennet along with Colo. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and others, would reimburse states that helped fund national parks during the 2013 shutdown. Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah provided $2 million in relief to the National Park Service to temporarily keep numerous national treasures open to the public, a Bennet statement noted.

“Colorado’s public lands help drive our state’s tourism and outdoor recreation economy,” Bennet said. “This amendment ensures that Colorado is finally repaid for stepping in to keep Rocky Mountain National Park open during the government shutdown.”

Boost to LNG

The legislation also speeds up the “approval process for exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the U.S.,” a statement from Bennet’s office noted. It would require a decision on any export application within 45 days after an environmental review is published.

“This bill takes important steps toward the 21st century energy policy that our country so badly needs,” Bennet said. “With the help of Coloradans, we’ve secured a number of measures to help promote our state’s diverse energy portfolio and ensure we can continue to protect the heritage of our public lands.”

Amendment rewards energy efficiency

The Senate legislation included an amendment pushed by Bennet that would allow mortgage lenders to calculate energy-efficiency improvements in a house toward the loan approval process, factoring in lower energy bills in the applicant’s monthly expenses.

Known as the Sensible Accounting to Value Energy (SAVE) Act, the legislation was introduced with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

“The mortgage underwriting process should account for efforts to improve a home’s energy efficiency,” Bennet said. “This measure ensures that borrowers with FHA-backed loans will be able to account for the energy savings they’ll realize when determining the size of their home loan. It encourages builders and homeowners alike to construct energy-efficient homes, which will help create thousands of jobs along the way.”

Homeowners typically spend roughly $2,500 a year in home energy costs, which amounts to more than $70,000 over a 30-year mortgage, the Bennet statement noted.

The Energy Policy Modernization Act next goes to the U.S. House.

Staff in Aspen

Members of Bennet’s office were in Aspen on Wednesday to hold office hours with the public.

Erin McCann, deputy press secretary for Bennet, said staff had recently visited Salida, Eagle, and Steamboat Springs before stopping by the Roaring Fork Valley.

“These office hours fill up really quickly,” she said. “We try and get back up here as often as we can.”