Salazar launches push to ‘thread the needle’ on bipartisan energy deal

The Obama administration is opening fresh talks with Congress aimed at bridging bitter political divides on energy.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met Thursday with a bipartisan mix of seven senators — including Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.) — in what Salazar called an effort to “thread the needle” on energy legislation.

“We’re trying to figure out how we might be able to thread the needle together to get the kind of bipartisan coalition that would help move forward with energy legislation,” Salazar said Thursday after a closed-door meeting with Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Overnight Energy: California regulators vote to close nuclear plant | Watchdog expands Pruitt travel probe | Washington state seeks exemption from offshore drilling plan Overnight Regulation: Fight erupts over gun export rules | WH meets advocates on prison reform | Officials move to allow Medicaid work requirements | New IRS guidance on taxes MORE (D-Del.).

Salazar met Thursday with Reid and Carper, as well as Sens. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP anxious with Trump on trade GOP lawmakers to Trump: Don't fire Mueller Government needs to help small businesses follow regulations MORE (R-N.D.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFlake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race Overnight Tech: Regulators to look at trading in bitcoin futures | Computer chip flaws present new security problem | Zuckerberg vows to improve Facebook in 2018 MORE (R-Ohio), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSupreme Court to hear online sales tax case State official indicates US military role in Syria post-ISIS centered on Iran Overnight Health Care: Dems press HHS pick on drug prices | Alexander, Trump discuss ObamaCare fix | Senate Dems seek B to fight opioids | Maryland eyes ObamaCare mandate replacement MORE (D-N.H.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine) and Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.).

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The efforts comes after bills to expand offshore drilling and slash tax breaks for major oil companies sputtered on the Senate floor this week, laying bare wide political rifts over energy in the process.

But Salazar told reporters after the series of meetings that he believes lawmakers can coalesce around three broad issues: expanded energy production, alternative fuels and energy efficiency.

“When you look at the different components of what we’re trying to address — production, alternative fuels and efficiency — there is a way in which good minds can come together and craft a piece of substantive legislation that will be a good bill,” Salazar said.

Pryor said his meeting with Salazar was a broad discussion that did not delve into specifics.

“He just wanted to get my read on where the Senate was on energy policy,” Pryor told The Hill in the Capitol. “It was more just about the prospect generally of do we think its possible that we might pass an energy bill this year.”

Pryor said anything viable “would not be a wish list for one side or the other.” He said Salazar, a former Colorado senator elected in 2004, is well-positioned to help move legislation.

“People here have a lot of respect for Ken Salazar. They know him and they know he is a very good legislator. Most people on both sides feel like he has been a very strong Secretary of Interior,” Pryor said.

Shaheen said the meeting touched on the wide-ranging energy efficiency bill that she introduced this month with Portman, as well as on her interest in oil spill cleanup R&D.

Lawmakers must carefully weave existing pieces of legislation together to come up with a broad bill that can pass the Senate, Hoeven told The Hill.

"There’s a lot of pieces of legislation," Hoeven said. "The key is how to bring some of those together and get them in a form where we can get enough support to move them.”

And Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuProject Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible CNN producer on new O'Keefe video: Voters are 'stupid,' Trump is 'crazy' MORE (D-La.), a critic of the administration's offshore-drilling policies, said a bill must originate from centrist and moderate lawmakers to have a chance of passing the Senate.

“It’s going to have to be something that’s driven form the center, out, as opposed to what came up this week, which is the best the two wings of the parties can come up with," she told The Hill, referencing failed attempts to block oil tax breaks and expand offshore drilling. "Now it’s time for the Senate to step up and put something together that can actually pass.”

Beyond Salazar’s new push, there are other bipartisan talks afoot or planned despite political warfare on energy that has become more intense amid high gas prices.

Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.) several weeks ago reformed the “gang” of senators that tried — and failed — to craft a sweeping bipartisan energy plan in 2008 (and counted then-senator Salazar among its members).

While Conrad and Chambliss have been knee-deep in a separate Senate and in a higher-profile “gang” trying to negotiate a deficit-cutting plan, Chambliss told The Hill on Thursday that the energy group “will be getting back together at some point.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.), meanwhile, said this week he’s reaching out to a bipartisan group of colleagues and sees an opening for measures that expand oil-and-gas drilling while “reshaping” oil industry subsidies.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is hoping for bipartisan support to move revived bills on offshore-drilling safety and spurring oil production through his panel.

Bingaman is also planning to steer more modest bipartisan bills through his committee soon, including a bill aimed at speeding carbon capture and storage technologies toward commercialization.

The Obama administration shifted on offshore drilling last week amid high gas prices. President Obama, in his Saturday radio address, outlined a series of steps designed to show that the administration is serious about expanding domestic oil production and lowering gas prices.

Meanwhile, Salazar, testifying at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing earlier this week, unveiled a legislative wish list aimed at developing a framework for “efficient and responsible” domestic oil drilling.

Moving any energy bill through the full Senate will need substantial GOP buy-in, and partisan divides were evident on the floor this week.

On Tuesday, the Senate rejected legislation that top Democrats are pushing to repeal $21 billion over a decade worth of tax breaks for oil companies like Exxon and Shell and apply the savings to deficit reduction.

On Wednesday, the chamber blocked a bill introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.) aimed at expanding and speeding up domestic oil drilling. It didn’t get a single Democratic vote.

This story was updated at 3:17 p.m.