Senate committee deadlocks on DOE nominee, lands bills

By Nico Portuondo | 05/03/2022 01:37 PM EDT

Democrats will likely force a Senate floor vote on Maria Robinson, nominee to lead the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity, but a Colorado public lands bill faces a more uncertain future.

Maria Robinson.

Energy Department nominee Maria Robinson during her confirmation hearing. Francis Chung/E&E News

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee deadlocked this morning on a Department of Energy nominee and sweeping legislation to protect more than 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado.

The united Republican opposition to Maria Robinson, nominee to lead the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity, belies strong partisan disagreement on energy issues after Robinson’s relatively smooth confirmation hearing in February (E&E Daily, Feb. 9).

Ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) this morning said Robinson displayed hostility to fossil fuels during her current role as a Democratic state representative in Massachusetts.


“This nominee has publicly praised abandoning the backbone of our nation’s electricity system, America’s abundant coal, oil and natural gas resources,” said Barrasso. “She is in favor of intermittent, unreliable and unaffordable renewable energy.”

During her confirmation hearing, Robinson said grid reliability would be her “No. 1 concern.” Despite a 10-10 committee vote, the Senate Democratic majority will likely have the numbers to discharge her from committee.

Lands bills

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, expressed confusion at the failure of S. 173, the “Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act.” The vote was also 10-10.

The bill, long touted by Colorado Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, would protect roughly 73,000 acres of new wilderness and establish the first national historic landscape around Camp Hale, part of the White River National Forest (E&E Daily, May 3).

“I’m just sort of perplexed,” said King, who chairs the National Parks Subcommittee. “Are we going to say that no bill that ever withdraws a square inch of land from mining or drilling in the future is going to be approved by this committee?”

Democrats were also dismayed at Republican opposition to S. 182, the “Pecos Watershed Protection Act,” which also failed to pass on a 10-10 vote. The bill, from Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), would protect an area in New Mexico from new mining. The Pecos Watershed experienced an environmental disaster after an abandoned mine began leaking lead and zinc.

Republicans said any effort to limit mining or drilling should be considered very carefully, as too many “not in my backyard” efforts that kill energy production could compound during an energy crisis.

Democrats weren’t convinced, especially because local community and industry leaders signed off on both bills.

“I’ve always thought of the Republican Party as the party of local control, respecting local interests, local political bodies, county commissioners,” said King. “Even in the ‘CORE Act,’ you had an oil and gas company supporting it.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) attempted to further explain Republican reasoning, saying larger global events in Ukraine and skyrocketing energy prices may be affecting the viability of bills to take any fossil fuel or critical mineral production off the table.

“Maybe much of this is a function of the time that we’re in right now,” said Murkowski of the gridlock.

Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a defender of fossil fuel and mineral extraction, supported the bills. He also backed the DOE nominee.

Legislation from Manchin and Barrasso, S. 3266, the “Outdoor Recreation Act,” to improve public land access and recreation, cleared the committee this morning with unanimous support (E&E Daily, Nov. 18, 2021).