The Senate passed, 85-12, an energy policy modernization bill on Wednesday that was stalled for months by Democrats’ efforts to use the measure as leverage for a package of federal spending to address the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.
The bill (S 2012) is the first broad energy policy bill passed by the Senate since 2007. It provides for modest policy changes that could win bipartisan support, including streamlining the permitting for liquefied natural gas exports, mandating improvements to the electric grid’s reliability and security, raising energy efficiency standards for commercial and federal buildings, and permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
It now faces reconciliation with a more ideological House-passed energy bill (HR 8), and a short calendar for getting it done. The White House threatened to veto the House bill over measures that it said would derail the Obama administration’s agenda to reduce climate-warming carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
The Senate measure was sponsored by Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and the committee’s top Democrat, Maria Cantwell of Washington. Democrats relented on their demands for Flint aid last week, allowing the bill to move to the floor.
The energy legislation first hit the Senate floor with bipartisan support in mid-January, but stalled when Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters demanded it include an amendment to address the crisis in Flint. A deal that would allow the energy bill to advance as well as a separate bill for Flint could was unable to get unanimous consent, and Democrats relented when they were assured that there would be another vehicle to address Flint.
The Senate on Tuesday added 31 noncontroversial amendments on a voice vote, and two others that needed a 60-vote threshold. The total amendment count for the bill was more than 60.
Murkowski and Cantwell emphasized throughout the process that they wanted to preserve the bill’s bipartisan backing and avert a veto threat by avoiding partisan provisions. The effort succeeded; the measure passed by a wide margin and the Obama administration stopped short of issuing a veto threat.
‘Proud of the Process’
“As substantive as this bill is, as much good policy reform that is reflected in it, I am equally proud of the process that we used to get here,” Murkowski said after the vote. “To have 80 members of the Senate have some level of ownership in the sense of input, amendments and process that they are included is a good path to be on here in the Senate.”
She added, “I think the vote you see reflected here this morning is indicative of the need to update and modernize our energy policies.”
Cantwell earlier noted the compromises that advanced the bill. “The bill represents a lot of discussion,” she said on Tuesday. “It’s not the perfect bill that the chairwoman would have written, nor the exact bill I would have written, but it’s is a compromise on the modernization of energy that this country desperately needs – the steps we need to take to keep moving forward on a safer, more secure, cleaner energy force and a work force to go with delivering it.”
The compromise version, however, has some advocates dissatisfied.
The Natural Resources Defense Council led a group of nine environmental groups in opposing the bill. In a letter to lawmakers, the group said the bill “contains counter-productive provisions” like the streamlined permitting process and changes to the definition of biomass energy that would slow the push for cleaner energy.
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