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Modest Bill's Success Sets Stage for Bolder Effort

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Shaheen and Portman worked for 18 months to build support for their comprehensive energy efficiency measure.

Despite the difficult House political dynamics, Shaheen and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, labored patiently for 18 months on building support for their own comprehensive energy efficiency measure.

Their effort could be considered a textbook case on how to pass a bill.

To win approval by the Energy panel, they tweaked the bill to address industry concerns about some of the proposed standards. To mollify deficit concerns, they even added language cutting authorized spending levels elsewhere in the federal government to offset the spending allowed under their own measure.

The pair also assembled the support of dozens of interest groups from across the political spectrum, as varied as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Despite their pleas to Senate leaders and their respective colleagues, Shaheen and Portman were unable to secure floor time for the bill, in large part over fears of a flood of contentious amendments.

As a backup plan, they chose the least controversial provisions from the bill and packaged them with other efficiency language from a separate bipartisan bill sponsored by Murkowski and Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. That bill moved through the Senate by unanimous consent in September, prompting bicameral, bipartisan talks that led to the more pared-down version sent to the president’s desk last week.

Still, Rob Mosher, director of government relations for the Alliance to Save Energy, said the measure’s success is a milestone. “It’s important to advance energy efficiency policy in a bipartisan manner, and that’s what this bill accomplishes,” he said.

GOP House Energy and Commerce Committee aides say efficiency is clearly an area of “common ground,” though they predict the Shaheen-Portman bill will need some “reworking” to move through that chamber.

Shaheen said recently that she and Portman planned to huddle soon to discuss strategy for the next year, including whether changes to their broader bill are needed. Murkowski, meanwhile, said a comprehensive energy bill that she plans to offer next year will include a substantial title on reducing consumption.

“When we were kicking around first drafts, I said, ‘You can’t have such a short provision on efficiency. We need to beef it up,’” Murkowski said.

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