Senate hopes to finish broad package by week’s end

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016

The Senate will resume debate on bipartisan energy legislation today, as members of both parties hope to complete the first bill addressing a broad range of issues in nearly a decade by the end of the week.

The chamber will gavel in this afternoon and resume consideration of the bill (S. 2012), which contains provisions to boost efficiency, support natural gas exports and modernize energy infrastructure.

The measure, written by Senate Energy and Natural Resources chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), cleared the panel last summer on an 18-4 vote.

“We’re gonna finish it next week,” Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said before senators headed out for the weekend Thursday.

There won’t be any roll call votes until tomorrow because of the Iowa caucuses, but more debate on the bill and amendments is expected today. As of Friday, there were 190 amendments in the queue, and that total will grow as senators return to the Capitol today.

“We’re game on at 3 o’clock,” Murkowski spokesman Michael Tadeo said Friday.

Murkowski and Cantwell steered clear of contentious amendments last week, but it remains to be seen whether the detente will last through this week (E&E Daily, Jan. 29).

Members of both parties have filed or plan to submit amendments on a number of controversies, including U.S. EPA’s climate policies and the Interior Department’s pause on new coal leasing on public lands.

Climate amendments

Democrats this week will unveil climate-themed amendments to make Republicans squirm and are eyeing the package as a vehicle to address a pair of ongoing environmental crises.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is pushing an amendment meant to push mining and drilling companies to boost reporting to investors on the impacts of climate change on their business.

California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer will file an amendment this week addressing the continuing massive methane leak from the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site operated by Southern California Gas Co. (Greenwire, Jan. 29).

Their amendment would simply task the Energy Department with reviewing and responding to the leak, but the effort will highlight a major concern of environmentalists and like-minded Democrats: the threat that methane — a particularly potent greenhouse gas — from oil and gas operations poses to the environment.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) has already filed an amendment that would require EPA to issue regulations from existing oil and gas facilities — a proposal that Republicans won’t be enthused about (E&E Daily, Jan. 29).

Separately, a proposal by Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters that would steer $600 million toward the lead-contaminated drinking water of Flint, Mich., is meeting resistance from Republicans over its cost.

Other controversial amendments on the Democratic side include a proposal filed by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) last week that would establish a federal energy efficiency resource standard for electricity and natural gas suppliers. The proposal got a cool reception in committee from Republicans, but Cantwell last month singled it out as a top priority for her in the debate.

Additionally, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) filed an amendment to address the battles playing out nationwide over state net-metering policies. The proposal, backed by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), would preserve consumer agreements on net metering by limiting state regulators’ powers to impose higher rates.

Republicans have already filed amendments seeking to block EPA’s Clean Power Plan, as well as proposals aiming to delay its implementation until a series of reviews.

In a letter to senators as a debate kicked off last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council noted it doesn’t oppose the bill, despite the inclusion of some “problematic provisions,” but warned that could change depending on what amendments are adopted.

“As consideration of S.2012 begins, we hope you will improve the bill by remedying problematic sections and adding new provisions to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future and address climate change,” the group wrote. “We urge the Senate not to further expand development of dirty fuels or weaken environmental and public health protections. Adding such provisions would prompt NRDC to oppose the bill’s passage.”

Bipartisan amendments

There are also amendments in the queue that have some degree of bipartisan support or split the chamber along regional, rather than partisan, lines.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) noted that he has Democratic backing for three of his amendments linked to controversial subjects: EPA’s coal ash disposal requirements, handing states chief oversight of fracking operations and overhauling cross-border infrastructure permitting in North America.

With some Democratic support, Hoeven signaled he’s comfortable seeking votes on the measures, although he acknowledged there’s plenty of competition.

“I’ll get to offer some,” he said last week. “I don’t know that I’ll get to offer all.”

There are also amendments to strike the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as to shift the funding allocations for the program, which was the subject of a protracted fight last fall when it expired.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a strong supporter of LWCF, said last week that he didn’t think either amendment would garner enough support for adoption if put to a vote.

Another wild card is a handful of amendments seeking to rescind or make changes to the renewable fuels standard.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a longtime RFS critic, said it was unclear whether an amendment he sponsored with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Feinstein to repeal the portion of the program met by corn ethanol would come up.

“We’re certainly pushing,” he told E&E Daily last week. “It’s about time.”

The American Energy Alliance last week launched a six-figure ad buy opposing the Toomey-Feinstein-Flake amendment, saying in a letter to senators that while it opposes the “fatally flawed” RFS, the amendment would preserve the advanced biofuels requirements of the program.

Even though any RFS votes would come after today’s Iowa caucuses are over, one industry lobbyist who opposes the standard said it was doubtful that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be enthused over ethanol-related amendments, which would divide his caucus heading into the November elections.

“I don’t think any one of them will get a vote,” the lobbyist said Friday.

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