The Senate easily passed bipartisan energy reform legislation today, setting the stage for conference talks with the House that members hope will result in the first new major energy law in almost a decade.
The Senate passed S. 2012 on a 85-12 vote this morning after senators yesterday voted on a series of amendments set up under an earlier agreement.
Opposing the bill were Republican Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Tim Scott of South Carolina, John Boozman of Arkansas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Mike Lee of Utah, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, David Perdue of George and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) did not vote. Sanders and Cruz have been campaigning for president.
Speaking to reporters after passage, Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) attributed the strong vote to the process they employed in assembling the bill.
"This is how the Senate is supposed to work," said Murkowski, pointing out that the legislation now includes 64 amendments and contributions from 80 senators.
"The Senate definitely did its job today," said Cantwell, referencing Senate Democrats’ mantra in the fight over confirming Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
Still, both senators acknowledged the hurdles that lie ahead. "We’ve got our work cut out for us," Murkowski said.
In a statement, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he was looking forward to going to conference. "With today’s milestone, we are one step closer to embracing policies that say yes to energy," he said.
With congressional plans truncated by this year’s campaigns and elections, Murkowski said the calendar was one of the biggest hurdles ahead.
"We can work through issues," Murkowski said. "The calendar is a little more challenging. So that’s why I want to get on it as quickly as possible."
Among the policy challenges she sees looming, Murkowski noted deep-seated opposition among some House members to land acquisition made through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is permanently reauthorized in the Senate bill.
However, she said the issue was "resolvable."
Murkowski also foresees resistance in the House to reforms in the Senate bill to the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program.
"I think you will have some who will say, ‘Well you didn’t eliminate the loan guarantee program. We wanted you to get rid of it altogether,’" she said.
"Instead what we did was we worked to seriously put some reforms in that. If we can walk people through what we have done, I think some of the issues that are viewed now as obstacles or roadblocks are alleviated."
Murkowski said she has not yet spoken with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about naming Senate conferees but said she envisions a "full and formal conference," noting that Congress hasn’t used a formal conference on energy since 2005.
"We’ve kind of forgotten how to do a conference around here," she said. "I think it’s time we get back to that."
Because the House led conference talks in 2005, Murkowski said she would head the conference committee and intends to use the gavel to keep the focus on the issue until a deal is completed.
"You can call meetings," she told Greenwire about the advantages of chairing. "One of the things that Senator Cantwell and I have learned is you’ve got to keep talking about these issues. Because when you decide we’re done talking, or I don’t want to schedule this, then nothing happens. Keeping a fire under this is as important as anything, and that’s what I can control."
"We’ve got a lot of educating to do," Murkowski added.