Senate, House energy leaders talk nuclear waste, hydropower, efficiency

The meeting continues a trend of confabs between Murkowski, Senate Energy Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.). Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) also joined for Tuesday’s meeting, Murkowski said.

The issues Murkowski outlined already have some movement.

She expressed optimism about getting some nuclear waste items through Congress, despite differences between chambers on what to do about the Yucca Mountain repository.

House Republicans have insisted any nuclear waste bill outlines the Nevada site as the nation’s long-term waste storage destination, as outlined in a 1982 law. President Obama, with the backing of Yucca opponent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), pulled the plug on Yucca in 2010.

Murkowski said recent news of leaking storage containers at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington might have ignited some willingness to move on nuclear waste without a deal on Yucca.

“That can’t sit and wait until there’s a Yucca resolution. I think we recognize there are things that we can do and should do,” Murkowski said, noting Wyden was working on a draft bill.

Murkowski also said energy efficiency legislation is “ripe” for the picking. Welch’s involvement in Tuesday’s meeting might speak to that, as the Vermont Democrat is a staunch advocate for efficiency.

Still, there is some disagreement on what form such legislation would take.

Democrats generally would want to encourage energy efficiency through tax credits, standards and other measures. But Republicans — especially in the House — are wary of mandates and anything that could widen the federal deficit.

Of the three policy areas mentioned, Murkowski said hydropower legislation had the best prospects.

The House already unanimously passed a hydropower bill that would look into easing licensing requirements at some non-powered dams and for hydro-based energy storage. It also would remove some regulations for small hydro projects.

The Senate has a similar version in queue, leading Murkowski to believe the effort “may very well be the first energy bill that’s enacted this year.”