Energy-efficiency bill clears Senate panel

A bill viewed as a bellwether of the Senate’s appetite for passing energy-efficiency legislation breezed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

The bill (S.761), co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), passed the committee by a 19-3 vote. Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) opposed the measure.

But even the bipartisan endorsement for the bill might not be enough to get it to the floor. A similar version last year fell victim to a disagreement between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) regarding amendments.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he was determined to avoid the same fate this time around.

“We want to do what’s doable. As you know, it’s fairly easy to blow things up in the United States Senate, and it’s more challenging to thread the needle. A whole lot of senators this morning with differing philosophical views showed a lot of goodwill. That’s what we’re going to bring to Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell,” Wyden told reporters after the mark up.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s top Republican, said she and Wyden plan to ask Senate leaders to limit amendments — both in number and in scope.

Wyden predicted that lawmakers would resist pinning controversial amendments onto the bill because “people have had a belly-full of paralysis” and want to see legislation passed.

The legislation aims to encourage energy-efficiency upgrades at residential, commercial and industrial buildings. It would do so by authorizing voluntary standards for new building codes, a state-based private financing program for boosting efficiency and directing the federal government to employ energy-saving practices.

Shaheen and Portman removed some of the thornier issues from last session’s version — such as an authorization for a federal loan guarantee program — that prickled fiscal conservatives. They said doing so would help it get through the Senate.

The committee also approved four hydropower bills on Wednesday that would ease permitting for small projects.

Wyden said those bills would help “put points on the board in the fight against climate change,” and that he expects those to pass the full Senate.