What does last night's marathon session of amendment votes on the Senate's annual budget resolution foreshadow about the future of energy and environment policy coming out of the upper chamber this year? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily reporter Nick Juliano, recaps the key votes including measures on U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, the "Waters of the United States" proposed rule and climate change. Juliano also discusses the political and policy impacts of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) decision to not seek re-election.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. An evening full of amendment votes tied to the Senate's annual budget resolution, and E&E Daily's Nick Juliano was on the Hill last night covering them all. Nick, we'll get to that in a moment, but first I want to start with the news this morning that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has announced he will not be seeking re-election. What does this do for the power struggle in the Senate, and what does it do for the legislation that we might see over the next 22 months?
Nick Juliano: Sure, yeah. I mean this was big news this morning. It really sort of shook a D.C. that's a little groggy from last night's vote-a-rama but, you know, certainly woke everybody before they might've had their coffee, in my case at least. I mean, you know this is huge. This is the first time since I think 2007 that a member of one of the four main party leaders on the House or Senate has left their post, so you know we're going to have jockeying for who's going to take his place. You know, Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin are sort of his number ... Dick Durbin's number two and Schumer's number three. They're seen as jockeying. Patty Murray's a member of leadership; she may get into the mix. There's going to be a lot of fun ahead, I guess, as the leadership race develops.
Monica Trauzzi: Yeah, and that Nevada seat will also be an interesting one to keep an eye on.
Nick Juliano: Mm-hmm.
Monica Trauzzi: So let's get to those votes last night. The Senate voted on a handful of energy and environment-related amendments. The Clean Power Plan was targeted. How did it turn out?
Nick Juliano: Sure. So Senator McConnell had an amendment that basically said EPA cannot deny highway funds to states that don't go along with the Clean Power Plan, and this is part of a case that he's sort of been building over essentially the course of this month. You know at the beginning of the month we read an op-ed in one of his home state newspapers that said states should not go along with this plan he thinks is illegal. He thinks courts will throw it out, so he wants governors to adopt that position. He wrote a letter to the National Governors Association how this amendment was trying to sort of test this proposition. You know it passed. It got 57 votes, enough to be attached to the budget 'cause there's no filibuster under those rules. But when it comes time to actually do something that will count, they're still going to need 60 votes, and they haven't been able to quite find that number yet. Now there was another climate amendment that was considered. McConnell was co-sponsoring with Senator Rob Portman that would have explicitly said states have the option to opt out of EPA's power plan if they can show harm to their economy or concerns about electric reliability, things like that. That was something that we thought would maybe see a vote. It was sort of unclear throughout the night and ended up being sort of left on the covenant floor with quite a few other things.
Monica Trauzzi: Right. And Senator Portman, as you reported earlier this week, he's kind of walking this tightrope on climate change. Politically, did he sort of buy himself cover heading into his re-election bid?
Nick Juliano: It's sort of tough to say. I mean, he was an interesting one to watch this week because Democrats had a few more amendments that they brought up on sort of the science of climate change and this question of, is it real? Is it something that humans are contributing to? Is it something that we need to deal with through government policy? You know, again, these are all nonbinding amendments that just sort of float this idea and say, what do you think about it? But Senator Portman joined Democrats on a few of those amendments that sort of accosted this idea. He's also a critic of the EPA rule, so you know he says these things are consistent. I talked to him about this yesterday. He says, "You know, I think this is a problem. We need to address it. EPA isn't going about it in the right way." He talks of things, like energy efficiency, that has been one of his big issues for months, and actually on that front he did get a very small win last night with a little efficiency bill was one of the sort of last pieces of business they took care of before wrapping up the week.
Monica Trauzzi: And earlier this week there were votes on "Waters of the U.S." and climate change, and how did those turn out?
Nick Juliano: Mm-hmm. Sure. Yeah, so the climate ones I was just talking about ...
Monica Trauzzi: [Crosstalk] [Inaudible] ... talked about.
Nick Juliano: Oh, "Waters of the U.S.," this is EPA's rule to you know to deal with sort of the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, which is a question that has been fairly unresolved for years, and it's a pretty complicated issue. EPA has a proposal that they've been working on more or less throughout the Obama administration to try and sort of clear up this question of what streams, what wetlands do automatic protection under this federal law. Republicans don't like the rule, as they don't like most of what's coming out of EPA under President Obama. Notably last night they think they may have found their 60th vote when there was an amendment that came up. Senator Amy Klobuchar, she's a Democrat from Minnesota, has been critical of the rule but on a similar test vote two years ago she sided with most Democrats in essentially voting to maintain the water rule. Now again this was, you know, it's not a perfect proxy but it provides an indication. I asked Senator Klobuchar about this last night. She says, "You know, I look at things on a case-by-case basis. We'll have to see when it gets time later this year to talk about appropriation's riders or something like that." But she's certainly one to watch.
Monica Trauzzi: And like you said, these votes were all nonbinding, but they do kind of tell us what senators are thinking about and what they're thinking is on particular issues. What did last night's vote-a-rama kind of predict on what we might see on energy policies on the Senate this year?
Nick Juliano: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so I mean the big take-aways in terms of what may actually be able to be accomplished in terms of sort of regulatory reforms that Republicans would like to achieve, they look to the appropriations process. So 60 may be in play on "Waters to the U.S." They're going to have to sort of tinker, I think, with it on their approach to the climate rule that will all come together. You know, separately Senator Mikulski and Senator Cantwell have been working for the last couple of months and will continue to work over the recess on trying to put together a larger energy bill. A lot of the issues that are going to be addressed on that front didn't necessarily come up this week. That's going to deal a lot with things like infrastructure and energy efficiency and energy production. We didn't see things like offshore drilling. So it's sort of a situation where you can't cover everything even when you're voting back to back for 16 hours at a time.
Monica Trauzzi: [Laughs] All right. Thank you so much, Nick. I know it was a very long night for you; we appreciate your time.
Nick Juliano: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
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