Senators start debating energy bill

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday started to debate its broad energy bill, giving a preview of some of the contentious fights likely to come.

In its first day of working through the 94 amendments that senators have filed for the bill, the panel only agreed to attach a non-controversial amendment to renew the authorization.

ADVERTISEMENT
Senators used the meeting to discuss more than a dozen related amendments that they quickly withdrew from consideration, though promised to bring up when the bill is considered on the floor.

And while two controversial amendments were considered and failed, the first committee meeting on the bill largely reflected the tone that Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiConservation program at center of energy bill fight Senators float bipartisan wildfire bill Overnight Energy: Lawmakers closing in on chemical safety deal MORE (R-Alaska) and Maria CantwellMaria CantwellDem senators back Interior coal leasing review An affordable housing solution both parties can get behind Senators float bipartisan wildfire bill MORE (D-Wash.) envisioned for the debate, in which only bipartisan measures with wide support would be attached.

“What you have is the result of many, many, many months of efforts,” Murkowski, the committee’s chairman, said before the markup meeting, pointing to committee staff listening sessions as far away as Alaska, hearings on 114 bills and more.

“There are folks who said they didn’t expect the committee to get this far,” she said. “At one point or another we would have just parted ways and given up.”

“This legislation represents the first attempt to craft broad bipartisan legislation since 2009,” said Cantwell. “The chairman and I agreed in the opening days of Congress that it was important for us to address the emerging energy policies that are important for our country.”

Murkowski said she was pleased with how the process is going thus far.

“We processed 25 amendments, and not a kurfluffle, really,” she said afterward.

The senators rejected, nearly along party lines, an amendment from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to create a federal energy efficiency program for buildings.

They also rejected a proposal from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to increase the share of money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that would go to states.

All of the Democrats and five Republicans voted against it, saying that the bill’s current restrictions and balance on conservation funding was sufficient.

Senators introduced and quickly withdrew a variety of amendments related to energy efficiency grants, rural school funding, thermal energy, solar power and other policy areas.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced and withdrew an amendment to make it easier for companies to obtain permits to build pipelines and electric transmission lines across international borders.

Hoeven cited Keystone XL, and the ongoing, nearly seven-year wait for it to obtain a permit from President Obama. But he also said that Keystone would not be covered under the legislation, since its developer, TransCanada Corp., has already submitted an application to federal officials.

Hoeven and other senators said they would introduce their measures on the Senate floor when the entire chamber considers the bill.

The committee also approved the nomination of Jonathan Elkind to be the assistant secretary for international affairs at the Department of Energy.

Senators will meet again Wednesday morning to continue debating the bill, and possibly into Thursday morning as well.