ENERGY POLICY:

Bingaman pushes to pass energy bills in lame duck

The chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has a laundry list of energy measures he wants to see approved this fall and is pressing Senate leaders to schedule votes during the short legislative session after the November election.

Top on Sen. Jeff Bingaman's (D-N.M.) wish list for the lame-duck session is his bill with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that would require utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.

"Senator Brownback and I have introduced this legislation and we hope very much that in the short session of the Congress after the election, that can be brought up and dealt with in a positive way," Bingaman said on the Senate floor earlier this week.

The duo floated the bipartisan renewable electricity standard (RES) measure, S. 3813, last week in an effort to drum up support and to show Democratic leaders they could round up enough votes to pass it. So far, 27 additional senators have signed onto the measure, including three Republicans besides Brownback.

But Democratic leaders are not optimistic the measure has the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle and remain uncertain an already-crowded legislative calendar will leave room for consideration of the RES measure this fall.

"I think it's unlikely that we'll have time to take up a bill that is controversial; that would take a longer period of time," Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said yesterday. And the Senate's fall schedule already includes at least three other measures that will take precedence, he said.

"Already there are at least three in the queue -- the START treaty, the tax bill, the omnibus spending bill," Durbin said. "It's going to be tricky."

But in addition to Bingaman, other Democrats have indicated the measure still stands a chance of consideration in the lame duck.

"I think that's one of the pieces we might even be able to do in a lame duck, conceivably, but we have to wait and see," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said of the RES.

The Energy Committee approved a broad energy bill last summer including an RES, but progress on the measure stalled in the Senate this summer over political disagreements, and lawmakers now are scrambling to find enough supporters to move ahead with smaller pieces of energy legislation before the end of this year.

Bingaman is also urging Senate leaders to move forward with several other energy measures, including legislation that would extend a clean energy manufacturing tax credit, establish a successor to the Energy Department's loan guarantee program and respond to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I rise to call on the Senate, also, in addition, to pass three common-sense, bipartisan measures that will enable the United States to retain existing clean energy jobs and capture millions of new ones that the burgeoning global demand for clean energy will soon create," Bingaman said Monday. "Congress needs to take decisive action this year to enact, at a minimum, the three common-sense, bipartisan measures I alluded to before."

But when asked about tackling energy efficiency measures -- an area of energy policy Republicans and Democrats have both supported -- Bingaman demurred.

"Well, the truth is there is a long, long list of things the majority leader is being urged to bring up in a short time," Bingaman said yesterday after a committee hearing. "It's not realistic to keep adding things to the list. You have to draw the line somewhere."

Tax credit, clean energy, spill bills

The manufacturing tax credit legislation (S. 2857) would extend a credit first included in the economic stimulus bill that allows companies producing solar panels, wind turbines and advanced batteries to write off 30 percent of the cost of creating, expanding or re-equipping manufacturing facilities.

The measure, from Bingaman and Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), would provide an additional $2.5 billion in the so-called 48c tax credits.

Bingaman also is pushing a measure establishing a successor to the Energy Department's loan guarantee program. The widely criticized loan guarantee program has faced bureaucratic delays and has so far awarded 14 loan guarantees, most of those within the past year. Congress has taken note and has withdrawn $3.5 billion from the program's coffers to offset other programs.

"We need to restore that funding," Bingaman said Monday. "We need to restore it as well as retool the loan guarantee program."

He also would like to see Senate action on a bill reported out of the Energy Committee that would create a successor program to finance the development and deployment of clean energy technologies.

The Clean Energy Deployment Administration language was included in the committee's broad energy bill (S. 1462) approved last summer.

Bingaman also wants to move an oil spill-response package (S. 3516) reported out of his committee this summer. That bipartisan measure would codify the changes Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made this summer to split the Minerals Management Service into three agencies to separate its leasing, enforcement and revenue collection functions.

It would also increase the safety requirements for drilling wells, establish new research programs, create an independent advisory board for the department, create a fee on companies to pay for inspections, increase the penalties on bad operators and increase the time the department has to carry out reviews before approving exploration plans.

"The Energy Committee has unanimously supported a bill to address the largest oil spill in our nation's history," Bingaman said this week. "The American people are waiting for us to enact it. We should do so as soon as possible."

The House cleared oil spill-response legislation this summer, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) floated an energy package including spill-response language before lawmakers broke for August recess. But that measure was pulled from floor consideration. Although Reid has promised to resurrect a spill bill this fall, the measure has gained little attention this month, and time constraints could prevent its passage in the lame duck.

Durbin said he would like to see Senate action on the oil spill-response legislation, but he remained skeptical of its chances of passage in November.

"I hope we can. I'd like to move that, and I would hope it would not be controversial, but I think that's a naive point of view," Durbin said. "I think there would be those who oppose it, or want to change it, and again, that eats up a lot of time we don't have."

Last night, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) attempted to win approval for a measure (H.R. 5481) that would give subpoena power to the presidential commission that is investigating the BP PLC oil spill, but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) objected. The House approved the bill in June by a vote of 420-1.

Reporters Katherine Ling and Robin Bravender contributed.