Senate likely to take up energy reform bill next week

The full Senate will likely start debating a wide-ranging energy bill next week that could include a vote on President Obama’s moratorium on federal coal-mining leases.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the bill in July as an attempt at the first broad energy reform legislation in nine years.

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The bipartisan bill came after months of negotiations between Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiGOP senator praises Supreme Court's abortion ruling Kerry visits Arctic Circle to see climate impacts Senate panel clears EPA spending bill, blocking rules MORE (R-Alaska) and ranking member Sen. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellWeek ahead: Wait drags on for energy talks The Hill's 12:30 Report Democrats seize spotlight with sit-in on guns MORE (D-Wash.).

It includes a number of priorities from both parties, including speeding up approvals for natural gas exports, modernizing the electrical grid and indefinitely authorizing the federal government’s main conservation program.

“This is a bipartisan bill that focuses on energy supply, on infrastructure, on energy efficiency, on reliable energy, it talks about a number of things at a time that the president has actually had an assault on American energy,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGOP senator: Obama ‘believes he is above the law’ Republican senator expects Trump will 'embrace' GOP platform Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of the committee and chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

Barrasso said the bill’s debate on the Senate floor provides a prime opportunity to take some sort of action against Obama’s decision to halt new federal coal leases while officials determine how to change the program to better reflect its impact on the environment and the climate.

“In a sense, that is going to just be sending pink slips to thousands of people who earn their living and livelihood with coal,” said Barrasso, whose home state hosts many mines on federal land, especially in the Powder River Basin.

“This energy bill will be an opportunity to speak out with amendments specifically related to the president’s most recent actions.”

Murkowski said she’s pretty confident that an amendment on the coal action will come up in debate, though she’s not sure what kind of change it would make.

“Given the announcement last week from the administration on the three-year moratorium, I would fully expect that we would see an amendment, maybe there would be multiple amendments,” she said.

Murkowski also expressed hope that the bill could accomplish reforms to the permitting process for hydroelectric power.

A package of reforms was removed from the bill in July after the two parties could not settle differences on it.

Murkowski joined with Jay Faison, a Republican campaign donor who advocates for conservative climate change policies, for a New York Times piece last week pushing for more hydropower and reforms. 

“We could be doing much more to harness the huge potential of hydropower, even without building new dams,” they wrote.