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Senate passes energy reform bill

Senate passes energy reform bill
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The Senate on Wednesday passed a wide-ranging bill to modernize energy policy, the culmination of nearly a year and a half of bipartisan work by top energy senators.

The legislation, which its sponsors hope to become the first broad energy law in nearly a decade, is a collection of policy changes aimed at tasks like electric grid modernization and natural gas exports, although it avoids the most controversial proposals on either side.

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Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe siren of Baton Rouge Interior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (R-Alaska), the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and lead author of the bill, hailed it Tuesday as a “broad, bipartisan and, some would suggest, long-stalled energy bill.”

“We have had important compromises on clean energy technology, energy efficiency, infrastructure and truly bipartisan support,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats request info on 'repeated environmental concerns' at Ohio pipeline Booker to stop accepting donations from corporate PACs Gillibrand vows to refuse donations from corporate PACs MORE (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, added. 

“So we need to pass this bill. That's why we've been so persistent. It's been since 2007 that we passed an energy bill.”

The bill passed 85-12. All of the senators voting against it were Republicans: Sens. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSenate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA Dems go on the attack during EPA chief's hearing Bipartisan group of senators ask Trump to fund broadband in infrastructure plan MORE (Ark.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures Senate rejects Trump immigration plan Our intelligence chiefs just want to tell the truth about national security MORE (Ark.), Jim Lankford (Okla.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points GOP's tax reform bait-and-switch will widen inequality Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived MORE (Ky.), David Perdue (Ga.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioColbert: Students taking action on gun violence 'give me hope' Lawmakers feel pressure on guns Florida lawmaker's aide fired after claiming shooting survivors were 'actors' MORE (Fla.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottAfter Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward GOP senator: FBI failure in Florida shooting 'a separate issue' from Russia probe Sunday shows preview: Russian charges, Florida shooting dominate coverage MORE (S.C.), Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Boozman, Lee, Paul, Scott, Shelby and Toomey are running for reelection this year.

Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas) and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward MORE (I-Vt.), both running for president, were not present to vote.

The bill includes numerous priorities from Republicans and Democrats around the theme of modernization. It pushes to improve the nation’s electric grid, streamline the process for exporting liquefied natural gas, indefinitely renew the country’s main conservation fund, clean up outdated regulations and spur more energy efficiency in buildings and elsewhere, among other provisions.

The Obama administration supports much of the bill, although it has stopped short of completely endorsing it.

Energy Secretary Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey MonizOvernight Energy: Pruitt defends first-class travel | Watchdog says contractor charged Energy Department for spas, lobbying | Experts see eased EPA enforcement under Trump Obama energy secretary named to utility giant’s board Give Trump new nukes and we are that much closer to war MORE said last week that he was very encouraged by the legislation.

“The energy bill, as it seems to be moving, will have many many positive elements,” he told NPR. “It will really reinforce our commitment to energy technology innovation. It will recognize our reorganization in terms of better integration of energy and science programs. It will recognize our increasing responsibilities in emergency response for energy infrastructure disruptions.”

Murkowski and Cantwell met as early as 2014 to discuss the prospects of passing an energy bill through the Senate this session. The final package was crafted after a bevy of hearings and is made up of bills from a host of senators, many of whom supported it when it cleared the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last fall.   

But final passage comes after months of extra negotiations — behind the scenes, but also often in public view — over the future of the energy bill.

Leadership brought the bill to the floor in January and had hoped to secure an easy, bipartisan vote on the bill with only a few days of debate and amendment voting. 

But Michigan’s two Democratic senators — Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann Stabenow10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country At least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE and Gary Peters — insisted on attaching to the bill an aid package for Flint, Mich., which is suffering through a water-contamination crisis. Democrats soon rallied around the cause and blocked further debate on an energy bill that didn’t include Flint aid. 

Members spent months trying to hatch a deal on Flint. They were close to attaching a $250 million package to the bill but couldn’t overcome an objection from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who was concerned about the way the program was funded and put a hold on the bill. 

Democrats last week said they were dropping their insistence that Flint be part of an energy bill, clearing the way for its return Tuesday to the floor. 

Stabenow told reporters last week that Republicans had promised her “another path forward” for her Flint aid bill, but she declined to say what that path is.

“We have another opportunity,” she said. “Obviously, people in Flint still can’t drink the water and still can’t function as a community. So we’re not stopping. We’re just choosing to take another path.”

The energy package was the subject of intense lobbying from industry groups, environmentalists and free-market groups.

In January, a group of electricity and business organizations wrote a letter to Senate leaders endorsing the bill, praising its energy efficiency measures and saying it “includes pragmatic, reasonable energy policies.”

But conservative groups, led by Heritage Action, have lambasted the bill for expanding government energy programs and increasing subsidies for certain types of energy. 

“While some of the bill’s provisions appear small in nature, taken together they would be a significant expansion of the federal government,” the group said, urging a no vote from members. “When combined with the lack of significant conservative victories, the so-called Energy Policy Modernization Act is an ‘all pain, no gain’ proposition.”

Climate group 350.org targeted the bill’s liquified natural gas exports provisions on Tuesday, saying it is “a measure that would encourage more fracking for natural gas.”

Environmental groups, though, focused most of their complaints on the House bill, legislation that included several red-meat conservative proposals designed to attract Republicans votes in the chamber.

The House cleared that bill in December, on a much more divided vote. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he hopes to craft a compromise bill with Senate negotiators that can pass both the House and Senate and secure a signature from President Obama. 

Senators said this week that was their goal as well. 

“At one point in time it was suggested that we were going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat in order to get this bill back on the floor,” Murkowski said. 

“Well, the rabbit has come out of the hat. Some might suggest it was a little bit battered, but nonetheless, nobody gave up on this bill.”