Old and new fights emerge on Senate floor

By Geof Koss, Hannah Hess | 01/28/2016 06:54 AM EST

Senators from both parties are planning a slew of amendments to the chamber’s bipartisan energy bill reflecting both recurring fights over administration policies as well as new battles over recent developments in the energy arena.

Senators from both parties are planning a slew of amendments to the chamber’s bipartisan energy bill reflecting both recurring fights over administration policies as well as new battles over recent developments in the energy arena.

At noon, lawmakers are set to cast the first of two votes on amendments scheduled last night.

First up is a bipartisan nuclear energy proposal, S. 2461 from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). The amendment would require the Department of Energy to work with private partnerships to test and demonstrate new reactor concepts.


Then, Democrats who favor strong action on climate get a vote on an amendment designed to highlight their cause. The Senate will vote on a measure to boost funding over the next five years for DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, a program central to the Obama administration’s climate plan.

Despite desire to pass a bill that President Obama will sign, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said amendments to rescind U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Act jurisdiction rules are likely, with proposals to hand states primacy in regulating fracking and overhauling the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects that cross the United States, Mexican and Canadian borders coming, as well.

"I think you’re going to see all of those offered," he told reporters yesterday. "I think the sense is we’ll try to go through regular order. Let people offer amendments and see what can get 60. And frankly, if you can get 60 votes on an amendment, it should ultimately help the bill because it creates some bipartisan support. And that’s the main focus here."

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said that she and bill manager Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have their work cut out for them in managing a wide range of controversial proposals.

"There are possibilities all over," Murkowski told reporters yesterday, "energy-related and non-energy-related, and I think we recognize that anytime you have an open amendment process, stuff can happen."

Murkowski said, "So my job and that of Senator Cantwell is to manage that, and what we’re also trying to do is manage expectations. We want to make sure that we’re going to have a process that is equal to what we … demonstrated within the committee itself. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is possible. We demonstrated it with Keystone XL itself, and we’re going to do that with this one."

Old fights

From the amendments filed yesterday, it’s clear that some longstanding policy fights may resurface over the next week as the chamber debates the bill.

Pressed on the administration’s reservations on hydropower provisions in the bill, Murkowski said she’s happy to discuss the issue with the White House (E&ENews PM, Jan. 27).

"Well, then, I would love to have that conversation with President Obama himself in terms of the enormous potential that we have out there," she said. "In terms of what more we can do, we can electrify existing dams. We don’t need to do new dams, but we can gain more out of the existing infrastructure. So talk to me about that, and tell me what you don’t like about the idea."

In addition to the Clean Power Plan, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has filed an amendment to "harmonize" the 2008 national ozone standard with the update finalized last year, by giving states and industry leeway in meeting the new standard.

Cassidy also filed an amendment to repeal the renewable fuel standard. He said there should be a debate on the mandate, which set annual goals to boost biofuel production to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022.

"It’s terrible for the environment," said Cassidy, as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — a strong supporter of the RFS and former "Saturday Night Live" comedian — jokingly pretended to strike him in the back. "We’ve got a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from all of the fertilizer spewing down the Mississippi."

But Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) downplayed the possibility that an RFS repeal provision would go far.

"I think so far, the RFS stuff has really not been touched by either side," she said. "There’s a lot of people here who would like to revisit that policy; I’m not one of them."

Heitkamp said she expected amendments on "all of the issues that people had hoped would find their way on the omnibus but didn’t," including the Obama administration’s Waters of the U.S. rule and clean coal provisions.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has filed an amendment that would make Canadian oil sands subject to a federal excise tax that helps pay for oil spills — addressing an issue he has long fought for.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he is optimistic that the bill that passes will include the entire energy efficiency measure that he and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have labored on for years. The bill came to the floor twice in the last Congress but was sunk by amendment fights.

"This is the third time we’ve brought it to the floor, and I think third time is going to be the charm," he said yesterday.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who offered the ARPA-E amendment up for a vote this afternoon, said he and other Democrats who favor strong action on climate are discussing amendments to highlight their cause.

ARPA-E would see a boost over the next five years under the amendment, beginning with $325 million for fiscal 2016. The program is key to the Obama administration’s participation in "Mission Innovation" — a plan for 20 countries to collectively double spending on clean energy from $10 billion to $20 billion, with the United States providing half the total (see related story).

Schatz also offered an amendment to phase out tax preferences for fossil fuels and an amendment that would mandate that EPA propose new methane emissions standards for existing sources in the oil and natural gas industry.

Yesterday, Schatz signaled that the approaches would differ from the amendments they offered during last year’s debate on the Keystone XL pipeline.

"We want to cover new ground," Schatz told reporters. "Some of these amendments may fail, but we still want to advance the conversation and continue to lay the predicate that we need rational Republicans in the Senate if we’re going to solve the problem."

New fights

But the amendment offerings will also address new energy controversies, as well.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) is working with Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on an amendment to address the fight over net metering — which has roiled Nevada and a number of other states.

"We’re working on something right now," King said yesterday, adding that the amendment will include parts of a bill to encourage distributed generation that he offered last year.

Republicans also have filed a number of amendments requiring economic analyses of various administration proposals.

One such amendment, offered by Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), would require EPA to prepare a study of the economic and environmental effects of the final rule for carbon emissions from existing power plants. A second Inhofe amendment would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct an independent reliability analysis of the rule.

Other amendments target the regulatory process more broadly, including one from Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) that would require agencies to repeal or amend one or more regulations before issuing or rewriting a regulation.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) last night said he was still hoping to offer a handful of coal-related amendments, including one to protect the United Mine Workers of America’s imperiled benefits plan.

"We’ve been trying every way possible to get that in. I think there’s still talks going on, hopefully constructive talks, and it’s just there’s a few things that we have to maybe work on to get all the sides together on. But it’s something so needed," Manchin said.

Reporter Tiffany Stecker contributed.