Senate Republicans shape energy agenda with eye on winning majority

Senate Republicans rolled out a series of big energy measures this week but declined to say whether they would try and move their agenda through in a catchall bill if they regain the Senate majority.

Senior GOP lawmakers unveiled plans Wednesday and Thursday that together greatly would expand oil-and-gas leasing onshore and offshore, speed up drilling permits, approve the Keystone pipeline, delay certain air pollution rules and limit mining regulations, among other provisions.

The plans serve as a political marker for Republicans heading into the elections and a platform for attacking President Obama's energy policies.

But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), trailed by reporters after a Thursday press conference, didn’t answer a question about whether Republicans would seek to move a broad bill or more targeted measures if the GOP controls the chamber next year.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) indicated that those questions remain open.

“Whether or not we can move it in one fell swoop as we did in ’07 and ’09 with the energy bills, or whether we break it down in packages, I think the fact of the matter is, whether it is in component pieces or whether it’s the full-meal deal, we need some energy legislation that allows us to access our resources in this country for the good of the nation’s energy security as well as the jobs that are associated with it,” she said at the GOP’s energy-themed press conference in the Capitol.

Congress approved a sweeping bipartisan energy bill in 2007, and another broad bill cleared the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2009 but sputtered afterward. Murkowski would become chairwoman of the committee if Republicans capture the Senate majority in November.

The GOP on Thursday touted Sen. John Hoeven’s (R-N.D.) broad, new bill during a press conference attended by McConnell, Hoeven, Murkowski and others.

The bill includes full approval of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Alberta-to-Texas Keystone pipeline and a suite of other measures to boost drilling, curtail federal regulations and other steps. His office provides a summary (and promotes the bill) here.

The Hoeven-led bill arrives a day after Murkowski — who is co-sponsoring Hoeven’s plan — offered a separate bill that would mandate a far more aggressive and expansive offshore oil-and-gas leasing program than the Obama administration supports.

And that’s just a warm-up act for the Alaska Republican, who is planning in coming months to unveil an even broader plan ahead of the elections that will include provisions on efficiency, renewables and many other matters, she said.

Hoeven said the tactical strategy remains fluid for moving the GOP plans.

He noted that multiple Republicans have “excellent legislation” that jointly represents a “broad-based” plan that’s consistent with Mitt Romney’s energy policy goals.

“The strategy in terms of how you actually turn it into legislation, we are going to work with our ranking member — hopefully soon chairman of the energy committee — to pass it however she thinks best and however we can,” Hoeven said Thursday, referring to Murkowski.

Republicans currently hold 47 seats in the Senate but see chances to bring a number of currently Democratic seats into GOP hands this fall.

McConnell said recently that he thinks Republicans have a 50-50 chance of regaining Senate control.

Even with a narrow majority, Republicans would face major hurdles wining 60 votes for energy measures, but they likely would be able to win over centrist Democrats such as Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on some proposals.