Senate to dive into bipartisan package

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2016

After a blizzard-induced delay, the Senate will today open debate on long-awaited broad and bipartisan energy reform legislation backed by Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

“I don’t know about you all, but I spent a good portion of my weekend shoveling,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor yesterday. “I feel stronger today, but I’m ready to be back at work where it’s a little less rigorous.”

Key senators from both parties last week said they were cautiously optimistic the measure — S. 2012, which advanced through the committee last summer on a wide bipartisan vote — would sidestep the fractious amendment battles that have dogged energy floor debates in recent years.

“I think people are like, ‘We got a bill out of committee 18-4, we can move this,'” said Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Senate Energy panel’s top Democrat and bill co-author.

“Let’s show the Senate can work. Let’s not go crazy with a bunch of ancillary things,” Cantwell said. “There’s a lot of other people who have some interest in this, so it’s not just up to Lisa and I. I think we’re feeling like people are giving us the green light to get a basic energy bill done.”

Murkowski used the Weekly Republican Address to push the measure nationwide, calling it the first major energy bill to be considered by the Senate since 2007. “It’s been over eight years, folks,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week framed the measure as a common-sense proposal to produce and save energy while lowering consumers’ bills. But in a nod to the political crosswinds, McConnell also noted the bill is deficit-neutral.

“It won’t raise taxes,” he said on the Senate floor. “It won’t add a dime to the deficit.”

Still, the conservative Heritage Foundation is criticizing the bill as “an extension of the same, tired ‘politicians know best’ mentality that siphons taxpayer dollars and hands them to special interests,” it wrote.

Among the provisions Heritage opposes are worker training programs, hydropower incentives, aid for advanced vehicle manufacturers, renewable power promotion, and efficiency retrofits for schools and nonprofits, plus the creation of a National Park Maintenance and Revitalization Fund.

Heritage Action, the group’s political arm, is warning lawmakers that votes in the energy bill’s favor will count against their records. It’s unclear what effect Heritage’s lobbying will have.

Likely amendments

While McConnell has made clear that he’d like to replicate bipartisan legislative successes from last year, including education reform, a long-term transportation bill and tax legislation, lawmakers on both sides have signaled they’re considering offering some hot-button amendments on the floor in the coming days.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) says measures related to U.S. EPA’s Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule, giving states more oversight over hydraulic fracturing and coal ash disposal, are likely to surface (Greenwire, Jan. 21).

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said he’s drafting amendments targeting the Interior Department’s new moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands (E&ENews PM, Jan. 20).

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), whose home state would also feel the leasing moratorium, said controversial policies are fair game for amendments, notwithstanding the bipartisan desire to see the bill enacted.

“My task is to make sure I’m looking out for the interests of the people of Montana and our country,” he told E&E Daily last week.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) wants to push bipartisan legislation, S. 1714, to shore up the United Mine Workers of America’s troubled pension and retiree benefits plan (Greenwire, July 7, 2015).

“That’s not been done,” he told E&E Daily last week. “We could take care of that.”

Manchin said he may also offer amendments to further research into carbon capture, storage and utilization technology, although he conceded there may be limited Democratic support.

“I’ve got three or four Democrats, but that’s my high-water mark,” he said.

Other senators said they may use the floor debate to highlight policy preferences, even if they don’t seek votes on specific amendments.

Maine independent Sen. Angus King said he’d push his bill S. 1213, which aims to broker compromise between utilities, regulators and consumers over the costs of integrating renewables, efficiency and distributed generation into the grid (E&ENews PM, June 2, 2015).

“I’m certainly going to discuss that,” King said last week. “Whether I’ll propose an amendment, I’m not sure.”

Murkowski yesterday said she and Cantwell had worked in recent days to get ready for debate, and encouraged colleagues to get in touch about amendments or other issues. The senators made similar calls during the extended Keystone XL bill debate last year.

Murkowski said the bill would “require a great level of cooperation. But we are going to be ready to hit the ground running and try to move quickly with this very, very important legislation.”

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.