A Senate bill to implement a national renewable electricity standard should be brought to the floor this session as a stand-alone measure or not at all, a leading co-sponsor of the legislation said today.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said the point of introducing the stand-alone RES bill is to get enough co-sponsors to show the bill can pass without amendments.
"If we aren't able to do that, then I think it will make a lot of sense for Senator [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] not to bring it up," Bingaman told reporters after the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. "But I hope we are able to do that."
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), the other lead author of the bill, backed up Bingaman's plan.
"If our best shot is going stand-alone, then we should do it that way," Brownback said.
Bingaman and Brownback introduced the stand-alone bill earlier this week with 18 Democrats and two Republicans -- Susan Collins of Maine and John Ensign of Nevada -- co-sponsoring the legislation, S. 3813. The bill would require utilities to source 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.
The supporter ranks recently increased by three, including Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who signed on yesterday as the fourth Republican co-sponsor of the measure. Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan also signed on as additional co-sponsors yesterday.
Grassley told reporters this week he wanted to see an RES measure passed.
"I am in support of renewable portfolio standards," Grassley said. "What the percentage is might vary from time to time with me and what year it takes place, but I very much support the principle, and I want to see something passed."
But Grassley and Brownback have both warned that if Democrats try to add anything on the legislation and do not allow the traditional process in considering the bill, they would no longer support the bill, reflecting Bingaman's comments today.
"Is [Reid] going to have an open debate on it? If he's going to fill the tree, then I'm not going to vote for cloture," Grassley told reporters Tuesday. "So that means it would come up even though I support the principle."
But Grassley said he is optimistic the RES measure could pass in the Senate this year.
Brownback has also paired his support with conditions. "It depends on if he loads it with anything else. People can't get cute with this," Brownback said earlier this week. "This needs to be the 15 percent and be set."
To be sure, there are doubters. Said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), "There will be as much controversy over RES as cap and trade."
Even though four Republicans have signed onto the bill, Democrats do not have the full support of their own caucus.
Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas have both voiced concerns with RES language. Nelson told reporters Tuesday he would not support an RES like the one in the energy bill that passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last summer. The stand-alone measure is nearly identical to that measure.
And Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she would not support a stand-alone RES. She wants to see it coupled with oil spill-response legislation before she will consider it.
But the bill's supporters continue to express optimism.
"I believe there are 60 votes, and I believe they're bipartisan," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).
Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.