[author: Michael A. Andrews]
In December, the House of Representatives passed, by a highly partisan vote, a substantial energy policy bill. When the legislation was first introduced, it had broad bipartisan support, but as amendments were added, the Democrats abandoned the bill and refused to vote for it. In the Senate, a companion bill was introduced by the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Chair, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Both Senators refused to allow controversial amendments to distract from the bill’s central purpose. The bipartisan legislation passed out of the committee by a large margin, and it now awaits action by the full Senate. Both House and Senate bills address a broad range of energy policies that have not been reassessed or updated for over ten years.
The energy bills focus on all forms of energy production and policies: wind, solar, hydro, oil and gas, and nuclear. Senator Murkowski calls it “an energy policy modernization act.” The legislation includes new infrastructure rules to expedite the expansion of pipelines to ports and speed up the permitting process for LNG terminals. The bill would facilitate the permitting process for gas exports, advance energy efficiency standards for public and private buildings, and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conversation Fund. It requires upgrades of the country’s infrastructure to provide stronger security and efficiency of the electric grid. Additional provisions in the bill would eliminate a number of outdated or redundant mandates,
The Murkowski/Cantwell bill must now be scheduled for consideration and a vote by the full Senate. The omnibus bill enacted last month addressed the controversial issues of ending the ban of the crude oil exports and extending the tax breaks for renewable energy sector. Some observers believe that the removal of those issues will make it easier to bring the energy bill to the floor. Others contend that removing those high priority issues lessen the chances of the bill being considered. That is a decision that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will make. Senators Murkowski and Cantwell will be pushing the Senate leadership for time to debate and vote on their legislation. There is a strong expectation that once the two bills are sent to conference, House and Senate conferees will remove the most controversial measures that are in the House bill and craft a compromise that will pass the Congress and be signed into law by the President. The odds are good that these steps to “modernize” the nation’s energy policy will happen later this year.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) conceded this week that the House passed bill is too partisan, and said that once the Murkowski/Cantwell bill passes the Senate, they will be able to find a compromise that President Obama will sign.