Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is asking senators to have bills filed by the end of this week to be considered for inclusion in the bipartisan energy bill she would like to have out of committee by the summer.
The call for ideas is designed to let the committee hold its remaining legislative hearings on the bill this month, begin marking up components of the bill after the Memorial Day recess, and have something out of committee before the August recess. It remains to be seen how quickly a bill could come to the floor — especially as attention to the 2016 campaigns accelerates in the fall — and aides acknowledged that the committee schedule could still slip, too. The committee missed its self-imposed target of scheduling committee hearings at least a month in advance; May began last Friday, but no energy bill hearings have yet been noticed.
ENR and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is assembling companion legislation, held a pair of hearings last week assessing various proposals that could become the efficiency title of an energy bill. Murkowski plans three additional titles in the bill covering infrastructure, supply and accountability issues. Similar subjects are expected to be addressed in the lower chamber, although there will be little public activity there this week because the House is on recess.
The Senate’s efficiency hearing last week was a relatively friendly affair, although the parallel session in the House revealed some sharp divisions between Democrats and Republicans over a few aspects of the draft legislation being considered there (E&E Daily, May 1).
To be sure, the toughest issues lie ahead, and no one yet knows whether the two parties will be able to set aside their differences and find areas where they can work together.
Murkowski has homed in on the need to reform permitting and siting constraints that can slow construction of infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz acknowledged that as an area to be addressed when he testified on the Quadrennial Energy Review last week, and Murkowski said she hopes the administration follows up with some more specific legislative proposals (E&E Daily, April 29).
Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is working with several other Democrats on the committee preparing various legislative proposals related to modernizing the electric grid and bolstering energy storage. Others involved in the effort include Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Ron Wyden of Oregon, all of whom are Democrats, as well as Maine independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with them (E&E Daily, April 27).
Several senators also have floated legislation related to siting electric transmission lines — signaling priorities that may be difficult to reconcile.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) wants to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "backstop" authority to step in and authorize projects that face too many delays from state or local regulators. Arkansas Republican Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton earlier this year put forward a competing proposal to add a layer of required state-level approvals before the Department of Energy could invoke eminent domain to advance transmission projects (E&E Daily, April 24).
Additional bills introduced by the end of this week should provide a general indication of the boundaries within which negotiations over an energy bill will continue, and not every proposal considered at an energy bill hearing is guaranteed to make it into the final package, said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Murkowski.
Murkowski is approaching the exercise in a spirit of compromise. She and Cantwell have held dozens of listening sessions in Washington, D.C., and in their home states during last month’s recess. Top aides to the two senators also have participated in joint meetings with various stakeholders throughout the process, a move that struck participants as an indication of bipartisanship.
Dillon said the bill will not include overwhelmingly controversial items such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, despite Murkowski’s support for such a proposal, and he suggested that Democrats would be unlikely to gain much support for their most ambitious ideas, such as establishing a nationwide renewable energy standard.
"They’re going to have to compromise, and we’re going to have to compromise if we’re going to do something bipartisan," Dillon said.
While neither party should be expected to abandon its principles, Murkowski and her House counterpart, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), have said all year that they are more interested in advancing legislation that could pass and be signed into law than in engaging in partisan theatrics on an energy bill.
Republicans are still going to try to use their House and Senate majorities to implement campaign trail promises to rein in the Obama administration’s climate change agenda, but those efforts are likely to remain quarantined from the energy bill if it can achieve bipartisan buy-in. Attempts to restrict high-profile rules coming out of U.S. EPA or the Interior Department would more likely be handled through the appropriations process, where Murkowski also chairs the subcommittee in charge of those agencies.
Standalone legislation to block controversial proposed regulations such as the Clean Power Plan or the "Waters of the United States" rule also remains an option, but Democrats almost certainly have the votes necessary to sustain the presidential vetoes that would be virtually assured to greet any such bills that would pass.