Senate looks to finish bipartisan package this week

By Geof Koss | 04/18/2016 07:00 AM EDT

After two months of talks to clear out roadblocks, Senate leaders are looking to wrap up the bipartisan energy bill this week.

After two months of talks to clear out roadblocks, Senate leaders are looking to wrap up the bipartisan energy bill (S. 2012) this week.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who wrote the bill with ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), said last week the exact timing is up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

"We’re ready to go as soon as the leader gives us the word," she told reporters Thursday, one day after the surprise deal came together setting up a series of amendment votes and final passage.


The breakthrough followed Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s decision to lift her hold backed by fellow Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters; the pair have been angling to use the bill as a vehicle for steering aid to the residents of Flint, Mich. They say they have a new vehicle in mind (E&E Daily, April 14).

The deal additionally dropped a pair of planned votes on sharing of federal revenues generated by offshore oil and gas drilling. An amendment by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) would have allowed Gulf of Mexico states a greater share of federal revenues, while expanding such sharing with a handful of Southeastern states. A competing plan by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) would have repealed the 2006 law.

Cassidy last week announced that Senate leaders have promised him a floor vote on his amendment at a later date to be determined (E&ENews PM, April 14).

The timing of the amendment votes, which are expected to take a few hours, is unclear, although aides say tomorrow is a likely day to finish the bill. If the Senate passes the bill and it’s successfully conferenced with a House companion sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), it would mark the first comprehensive energy law since the George W. Bush administration.

Speaking to Boston’s WBUR "Here & Now" program Friday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the administration is "very encouraged" by the bill, which he said contains "many positive elements."

He lauded the bill’s provisions to modernize the electric grid. "What we see is a collection of risks that we need to get together for resilience of the grid in the 21st century," Moniz said, citing cyberattacks, fiscal challenges and energy storage. "We need to address this technologically."

While Murkowski and Cantwell sought to avoid particularly contentious issues in the legislation, the end result has drawn fire from both sides of the political spectrum.

Environmentalists, who oppose provisions intended to expedite permitting decisions on natural gas exports (E&E Daily, July 29, 2015), on Friday outlined a laundry list of provisions they oppose, including the bill’s definition of biomass, funding for methane hydrate research, a "delay" for the Energy Department’s disputed gas furnace rule, nuclear support and aspects of the bill’s hydropower section.

"These provisions weaken protections for our land, air, water and public health," wrote the Natural Resources Defense Council and nine other groups. "If anything, the bill has become more problematic as it has moved through the legislative process. This is not the first time we have raised these objections."

The groups urge lawmakers to "fix the bill" in conference with the House, while vowing to "vigorously oppose a final bill if it would do damage to the environment."

And Heritage Action for America, which issued a "key vote alert" on the bill in January, was reviewing the amendments Friday, with additional comments likely this week, said spokesman Dan Holler in an email.

That includes the more than two dozen amendments slated to be passed en bloc by voice vote — a tactic Holler said "minimizes transparency."