Senate Democrats preparing own legislation

By Geof Koss | 07/07/2015 07:00 AM EDT

Senate Democrats are planning to lay down a legislative marker on energy in the coming weeks — a development that adds a wrinkle to ongoing efforts to advance a bipartisan package.

Senate Democrats are planning to lay down a legislative marker on energy in the coming weeks — a development that adds a wrinkle to ongoing efforts to advance a bipartisan package.

The Democrats’ bill will build off last month’s letter to all 50 governors, in which 45 senators sought feedback on policies to spur clean energy investment, modernize infrastructure, reduce pollution and boost research funding, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (E&ENews PM, June 29).

"The objective of the letter was to garner input to better inform energy policy legislation, including a Democratic bill that could very well span multiple committees in terms of priority issues," Cantwell spokeswoman Rosemarie Tully Calabro wrote in an email yesterday.


"The Democrats recognize that states play an important role in producing energy. Having a better understanding of what the states would like to see in federal policy will be essential to negotiating bipartisan legislation."

The measure will likely include "a meaningful extension of energy tax credits for low-carbon technologies, as well as other policy and infrastructure matters of interest," Calabro said, adding that Democrats are aiming to produce a bill before the August recess.

That’s the same time frame Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is eyeing for moving her own energy package through committee. Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon said yesterday the goal remains marking up the broad energy package before the August recess and having it ready for a fall floor debate.

He declined to comment on Democrats’ plans for introducing their own energy bill, but said staff from both parties continue to work on the committee’s bill, which Murkowski wants to move with bipartisan support.

"We’re actively involved in discussions with their staff on putting together bipartisan legislation," Dillon said. "That process hasn’t broken down. That process is still in progress."

Murkowski and Cantwell will soon meet to discuss the panel’s bill, he added.

Despite having some starkly divergent policy views, especially on offshore drilling, the pair continues to follow the long-standing Energy Committee tradition of bipartisan collaboration.

But it remains to be seen how a broad energy package written by Democrats will factor into the debate. A Democratic bill addressing energy tax credits could provide an opening for Murkowski, who has expressed a desire to include a tax title in her legislation. She said last month that she was leaving tax issues to Cantwell, who sits on the Finance Committee (E&E Daily, June 26).

It also may give Democrats a boost in advancing top priorities: securing extensions of the renewable production tax credit and other clean energy and efficiency incentives that enjoy some degree of GOP support.

However, the prospect of competing partisan bills in the contentious arena of energy policy holds risks, as well.

In 2010, the Senate Energy Committee reported a bipartisan offshore drilling safety package cobbled together after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That bill, written by Murkowski and then-Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), languished after squabbling between the two parties over offshore oil spill liability prompted competing versions of the legislation.