By Ben Geman and Andrew Restuccia - 03/30/11 11:43 PM EDT
“This was just to explore 'is there interest in re-engaging,' and clearly there is,” Conrad said after the roughly 45-minute meeting. “There are going to be more meetings. There is clearly strong interest.”
The gang ultimately reached 20 senators before falling apart in September of 2008.
In August of that year, they rolled out a broad plan that blended wider offshore drilling with major new investments and incentives around electric vehicles and biofuels, as well as measures to support nuclear power. The 2008 plan called for raising billions of dollars to support green energy investments by repealing or limiting some oil-and-gas industry tax breaks.
But the new effort is unfolding in a highly partisan atmosphere on energy. For instance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who just months ago talked up bipartisan compromise — launched a blistering attack on White House energy plans on the Senate floor Wednesday ahead of President Obama’s late-morning speech.
“The problem is that Democrats don’t want us to use the energy we have. It’s enough to make you wonder whether anybody in the White House has driven by a gas station lately,” he said.
Conrad nonetheless sounded bullish notes about bipartisan cooperation on energy. “I think the fact that there are Republicans and Democrats who want to come together and get something done sends a very positive message,” he said.
Senators, however, emphasized that the effort is in a very early phase. “This was just the beginning of a discussion, and I don’t know where it goes at this point,” Thune said after the meeting.
Will it achieve liftoff? “Too early to tell,” Graham said.
The ever-changing timeframe for votes on the McConnell amendment
It’s been a long week.
After days of delay, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that a vote on an amendment to permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate regulations would be delayed until Thursday afternoon at the earliest.
The date and time for a vote on the amendment, which was offered by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is very much in flux.
McConnell’s amendment mirrors a bill introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Companion legislation has passed a House panel and is expected to come up for a on the House floor in the coming weeks.
The latest setback for the vote came when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked a unanimous-consent agreement on moving forward with debate on the small-business bill in an effort to secure a vote on his amendment to strip ethanol tax breaks.
Coburn's office said Wednesday that senators have placed a hold on the lawmaker's ethanol amendment. But Coburn will continue to push for a vote on the amendment, his spokesman said.
Reid said Wednesday he was planning votes on up to 10 amendments, adding that he was close to reaching a deal on all them.
A vote on the amendments would be pushed back to Thursday afternoon at the earliest because of a briefing on Libya Wednesday night and the funeral for Geraldine Ferraro in New York on Thursday morning, Reid said.
But it remained unclear Wednesday exactly which order the amendments would come up in and whether there would be votes on three Democratic alternative amendments that would limit EPA’s climate authority.
An amendment by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) would codify EPA plans to exempt small polluters from climate rules and exempt the agriculture sector from the rules. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced an amendment to the bill that would delay EPA climate rules for two years.
And Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced an amendment that would delay the EPA rules for two years as well as exempt agriculture from greenhouse-gas rules and boost a tax credit program for manufacturing green-energy equipment, among other provisions.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) suggested Wednesday that the amendment votes could slip into next week.
“Obviously, we want to get a vote on it. I don’t know when that happens,” Thune said. “Obviously, things are a little balled up on the floor right now. I’m still assuming it’s going to happen this week, but I don’t know for sure. It’s still unclear.”
McConnell, asked by The Hill if the path is clear for a vote on his amendment, said simply, “We’re working on it.”
Rep. Murphy forms his own energy ‘gang’
In addition to the bipartisan Senate energy "gang" we wrote about above, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) is trying to bring the parties together on a House energy plan.
On Wednesday he announced formation of the “House Energy Working Group” along with Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.). Murphy said they have “set aside politics to develop legislation that will grow jobs and boost our economy.”
Murphy cited President Obama’s energy security speech Wednesday in touting the group’s formation.
“Today, the president announced his goal of reducing oil imports by one-third over the next 10 years, a goal we will be working on in our bipartisan energy group to achieve. There’s no reason to continue importing oil from unstable and unfriendly regimes abroad when we can use our own vast natural resources in a safe and responsible way to take back our energy destiny,” he said in a statement.
Feinstein floats independent nuke-safety review
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) added her voice Wednesday to calls for an outside review of U.S. nuclear-reactor safety.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in conducting a review in light of the Japanese reactor crisis, which Feinstein said she welcomes. But the California Democrat — speaking at an Appropriations Committee hearing on nuclear issues — said more is needed.
“In addition to NRC’s self assessment, I believe we should consider an independent analysis of our nuclear power plant safety, with specific attention to threats assessment and the design parameters of our plants,” she said at the hearing of the Energy and Water subcommittee she chairs.
Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have both called for creation of an independent nuclear safety commission.
Feinstein also said she’s especially concerned about the length of time that spent fuel is sitting in cooling pools at reactors.
Spotted: NRDC President on Capitol Hill
E2 spotted Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke scrolling through her blackberry in the Dirksen Senate office building Wednesday.
An NRDC spokeswoman says Beinecke was meeting with Senate staffers about expected votes on amendments to block or limit EPA’s climate authority.
ON TAP THURSDAY
Capitol Hill nuke-safety probes press on
The energy panel of the House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing with Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko and Peter Lyons, the Energy Department’s top nuclear research and development official.
House hearing to vet climate science
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will conduct a hearing titled “Climate Change: Examining the Processes Used to Create Science and Policy.”
Hearing to review Energy Department loan guarantees, breakthrough tech program
The same Appropriations Committee panel will probe the Energy Department’s fiscal year 2012 budget plans for advanced energy project loan guarantees and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
Foreign Affairs panel probes Canadian oil
A panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Rising Oil Prices and Dependence on Hostile Regimes: The Urgent Case for Canadian Oil.” The hearing comes amid a major dispute over whether the State Department should approve a massive pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.
Senate energy panel looks at marine power
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a pair of bills to bolster hydropower and marine renewable energy live wave and current power. Officials from the Energy and Interior Departments and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will testify.
House Natural Resources panel continues gas price hearings
The committee will hear from several business groups at a session titled "Harnessing American Resources to Create Jobs and Address Rising Gasoline Prices: Impacts on Businesses and Families."
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…
Here’s a quick roundup of Wednesday’s E2 stories:
-Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and others are launching an energy security project
-Obama previewed his energy speech
-A battle over ethanol heated up
-An ethanol amendment stalled votes on key amendments to block or limit EPA climate rules
-A senior White House aide joined a major energy company
-Senate Democrats called on Obama to reject spending cuts that undermine EPA rules
-Obama said there are “no quick fixes” to high gas prices
-A fact-checking group said Rep. Michele Bachmann was wrong on a claim she made about drilling
-Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) raised questions about U.S. nuclear fuel safety
-Leonardo DiCaprio blasted an amendment to block EPA climate rules
-Reid said he was close to an agreement on amendments to the small business bill
-And Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was open to some fees on the oil industry