Murkowski points to Barrasso over stalled energy bill

Dispute over HFC reductions at issue

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is voicing frustration with stalled action on her energy bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is voicing frustration with stalled action on her energy bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 10, 2020 at 8:04pm

With her energy bill all but dead on Tuesday, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski insisted it was merely stalled and indicated the roadblock rested with a key GOP chairman, John Barrasso.

No votes were scheduled for the bill Tuesday night or Wednesday.

After the Senate was unable to advance the bill through a procedural vote Monday night, Murkowski, the committee chairwoman, told reporters at a hearing that the legislation, co-sponsored by her Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., was stalled, not dead.

The core hurdle remains legislation from Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., and Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — highly potent greenhouse gases found in household appliances like refrigerators and air-conditioning units — though senators said there were other tripping points too, including a closed amendment process.

Kennedy and Carper filed their bill as an amendment to the bigger measure, and in the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee said Tuesday it would mark up its own bill to lower HFCs, offered by Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Pete Olson, R-Tex. Kennedy said he would object to dozens of amendments proposed for the energy bill if the Senate did not first vote on his HFC legislation.

Barrasso opposes the legislation as written, and the Wyoming senator wants it to go through the Environment and Public Works Committee he chairs. The White House also opposes the HFC amendment.

In an effort to break the impasse, Murkowski floated the idea of voting on the Kennedy-Carper bill, then on an alternative from Barrasso, Carper told reporters Tuesday.

“There was a proposal, suggestion by Lisa Murkowski that there be a 60-vote margin vote on the Kennedy-Carper provisions side by side with a 60-vote margin on Senator Barrasso’s alternative, and he was not willing to do that,” Carper said.

Asked what Barrasso’s alternative is, Carper said: “We’re not sure.”

With a House version of his bill advancing, Carper is pressing for a floor vote. “Hearings are cheap. They're like a dime a dozen,” he said. “I want a chance to debate and vote on the floor.”

Barrasso “is opposed to an amendment being airdropped in that would implement the unratified Kigali treaty,” Mike Danylak, a spokesman for the senator, said in a statement, referring to an international treaty reached in 2016 to lower HFCs.

Ninety-three nations have agreed to Kigali though the U.S. has not, as the Trump administration has yet to submit it to the Senate for ratification.

“Throughout last week, chairman Barrasso offered the bill’s sponsors legislative language that would address the problems with the amendment,” the statement said. The chairman's language provided real preemption from state laws. It also addressed other problems with the legislation, including unspecified timelines for the EPA Administrator to accelerate the program.”

In a brief exchange with reporters before the Republican lunch Tuesday, Murkowski, who has described her mood over the bill's stall as “frustrated,” offered curt responses.

Asked if she was talking with Barrasso, Murkowski replied, “No. Why would I?”

“He’s got to work it out with Sen. Carper,” she said.

Manchin kicked the impasse over to Barrasso and Carper, too: “What it comes down to is Tom Carper and Barrasso.”

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., a committee member, said in an interview with CQ Roll Call that the HFC tension remained the main roadblock. “Oh, there are others, but it’s the primary one,” he said.

To appease some members, Murkowski and Manchin late last week unveiled a list of 18 amendments to be folded into the broader package as senators in and outside of her committee groused about the lack of votes on dozens of other amendments.

Freshman Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said he would not necessarily vote against the energy bill due to the HFC language, but language that would mandate the overhaul of building codes remains a sticking point.