Murkowski sees restraint smoothing legislative path

By Geof Koss, Hannah Northey | 07/24/2015 06:25 AM EDT

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) dropped a few hints yesterday about how she intends to navigate the treacherous minefield of amendments that has repeatedly sunk energy bills in recent years.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) dropped a few hints yesterday about how she intends to navigate the treacherous minefield of amendments that has repeatedly sunk energy bills in recent years.

Speaking the day after briefing committee members on the bipartisan bill she introduced this week with ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Murkowski said she promised senators an open amendment process during the markups that kick off next week (E&E Daily, July 23).

"If you don’t like something in it, if you think something needs to be added, this is going to be your opportunity to weigh in," she said at a briefing with reporters. "There are some things that I think will be easy for the committee to sign onto them. There may be some other things that are perhaps a little more contentious and controversial. … I think what you can expect is there will be an opportunity for good debate in the Energy Committee, and I welcome exactly that."


However, Murkowski also reiterated to panel members that she wants to move the bill with bipartisan support, which poses a challenge if "poison pill" amendments surface in committee.

She said her panel should follow the methods employed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — of which she’s a member — to move a major education reauthorization bill, which the Senate passed 81-17 earlier this month. In committee, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) urged senators to hold particularly controversial amendments until the Senate floor.

"Education reform after a dozen years wasn’t easy either, but we processed a lot of amendments in that committee and did so after good healthy debate, but the chairman and ranking member knew that there were certain issues that were perhaps just a little step above in terms of volatility or a partisan bent to them that were going to complicate it," Murkowski said. "Vouchers is a pretty good example of that. And so the members deferred to the floor."

As chairwoman, Murkowski could also enforce a germaneness rule, by limiting amendments to within the bill’s specific parameters. But she told E&E Daily that she’s not ready to issue an edict on the matter.

"I’d like to think there is plenty of energy-related [provisions], very specific to this legislation that we don’t need to go beyond nongermane, but that’s something Senator Cantwell and I need to work out," she said.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not committed to a specific time frame for floor debate, expected this fall, Murkowski sounded an optimistic tone on the prospects for maintaining order.

"There was a time that anything on the floor was a free-for-all, so that’s always out there, but I think you’ve seen some good examples of tight management and a fair process, and I think we’ve done that with the education bill," she said.

Murkowski also described a legislative strategy that may take some hot-button issues off the table during the energy package markups. Before adjourning for the August recess, she plans to separately mark up a compilation energy bill with two personal priorities: expanding sharing of federal offshore oil and gas revenues with coastal states — including Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic seaboard — and lifting the crude export ban.

"So that will be sitting out there, but there’s a process for that," she said.

Murkowski later sidestepped a question on whether she plans to offer that bill in part or in whole as an amendment to the bipartisan package on the floor.

"I think there are different ways to move things," she said. "You can put them on a bill as an amendment, or you can try to move them through your committee as a free-standing bill. That’s what we’re going to do."

The bipartisan energy package already contains one related provision that has caused some controversy in the past — putting a clock on federal decisions for potential exports of domestic natural gas.

But Murkowski said she doesn’t expect the traditional rancor over the provision, saying the legislation is simply codifying a federal process that’s underway. In the past, Democrats on the committee such as Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, whose home state includes the corporate headquarters for Dow Chemical Co., have expressed concern about energy price spikes and the effect of exports on manufacturers.

Murkowski noted that the Senate bill mirrors legislation that Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced earlier this year, language that was fully vetted, has bipartisan support and even garnered statements of compliance from the Department of Energy. Both the larger energy package and the Senate bill would require DOE to make final decisions on export applications within 45 days of completion of National Environmental Policy Act reviews by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Maritime Administration (Greenwire, Jan. 29).

"There may have been a time when we would have met more resistance from some members, but I think what we have seen is you’ve got a department that’s making it work with these timelines," she said.

For now, Murkowski said there will be at least two markups next week, on Tuesday and Thursday, with the possibility of another session Wednesday. Additionally, aides have noted the Senate is scheduled to be in session the following week, which could help meet Murkowski’s self-appointed goal of moving the bill through committee before departing for the long break.