‘Mega-markup’ may test limits of bipartisanship

By Geof Koss | 07/28/2015 07:33 AM EDT

Today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup will pit long-standing frustration among lawmakers over the yearslong delay in legislating on energy policy against the panel leaders’ desire to set controversy aside and keep the bipartisan package moving.

Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told E&E Daily last night that 94 amendments have been filed to the bill, a number she described as "very manageable."

But she acknowledged lingering discontent over the bill she and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, unveiled last week.

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"It’s fair to say that there were some issues that Senator Cantwell and I were trying to work through the process and couldn’t come to agreement, and so they weren’t included as part of the base bill, and so those members who were shopping those are hoping to have an opportunity to move them as amendments," she said.

She suggested that many of the amendments may simply be intended as an opportunity for members to put the rest of the panel on notice about their priorities and may ultimately be withdrawn. Murkowski last week said she would like to see members set aside their more controversial proposals until the bill hits the floor in the fall (E&E Daily, July 24).

Of the dozens of amendments filed, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) estimated yesterday that there were "maybe nine that are going to be seriously considered."

"We’re still winnowing through those that we are going to seriously push and those that we probably won’t," he said.

But he conceded that compromise will be necessary to maintain the delicate balance Murkowski and Cantwell sought to strike in writing the bill.

"Is it everything that I would want? Absolutely not," he told E&E Daily of the underlying bill. "Does it have much that I would want? Yes. So obviously, if the idea is to get that which we want, there has to be some common denominator, and I think that Murkowski has sought that common denominator."

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said yesterday that he’s filed a number of amendments.

"These are all big energy issues, so we’re looking for opportunities to move them," he said, citing in particular the Keystone XL pipeline.

Part of the calculation lies in the fact that it’s hard to get floor votes on amendments, he said.

"Any of these bills are going to be challenging on the floor just because there’s so many amendments that are looking for a vehicle," Hoeven said.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said yesterday that he was concerned about some of the amendments filed on the Republican side, which he described as "fairly divisive."

"So if some of those are successful, then that kind of calls into question the final product," he told E&E Daily. "I think the hope early on was to really make a bipartisan package here. So hopefully, the divisive amendments will not carry the day and we’ll have something that both sides can say is progress. And it’s not a touchdown, but it’s progress."

Democrats will bring their own amendments to the markup, but whether those are offered will depend on what Republicans seek votes on, he said.

"I hope we get a pretty bipartisan, pragmatic bill at the end of this mega-markup, but I’m not ready to say one way or another what’s going to happen at this time," Heinrich said.

Meanwhile, the political winds are already blowing against the bill.

The Sierra Club and 10 other major environmental groups sent a letter to Murkowski and Cantwell yesterday applauding the inclusion of a permanent extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the bill, as well as new programs to promote grid storage, efficiency and advanced technologies, but warned that they will oppose the measure over other sections of the bill.

The objectionable provisions include the bill’s repeal of a 2007 law that mandates the phaseout of fossil fuel-generated power in new and renovated federal buildings by 2030, the inclusion of a 45-day timeline for the Energy Department to make final decisions on natural gas exports once environmental reviews are completed and changes to the permitting processes for hydropower and Bureau of Land Management mining facilities.

"Unless these concerns are addressed, we are unable to support this bill," the groups wrote.

The Alliance to Save Energy, which has spent years working with committee members on efficiency, outlined its own wish list to senators yesterday, urging the adoption of several planned amendments that incorporate its goals.

Presidential politics will also make an appearance at the markup.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has emerged as liberals’ favored alternative to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, has crafted language touching on climate change that may face challenges in securing Republican supporters.

The senator plans to offer an amendment that would "express" Congress’ agreement with the "opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community" that humans are causing the climate to change and that greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere, causing temperatures and sea levels to rise. The amendment also calls for a swift move away from fossil fuels and for transformation of the energy sector.

Three other amendments Sanders has prepared are targeted at increasing efficiency and solar power.

Those measures would require the secretary of Energy to provide loans and grants for solar installations in low-income and underserved areas, establish a state residential building energy efficiency upgrades loan pilot program and allow for an additional 10 million solar panels to receive rebates by 2025.

Reporter Hannah Northey contributed.

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