Election-year energy sweeps the Senate

Election-year energy sweeps the Senate
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Floor action on energy reform legislation is giving vulnerable Republican senators an opportunity to show they can deliver for their home states. 

The legislation, which the Senate started debating on Jan. 27, is one of the few wide-ranging bills likely to pass in a year where lawmakers are likely to spend more time on the campaign trail than in Washington.

Leaders in both parties are committed to getting the bill across the finish line, providing senators with a rare chance to sponsor amendments that are important to their constituents.

The chamber is using an open amendment process, in which any senator can propose an addition to the legislation. Scores of them have done so, though their proposals can only advance through the unanimous consent of the Senate. 

“Arguably, for Republican members, successful completion of a non-controversial bill probably is better for their reelection prospects,” said Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners, a consulting firm. 

“But for at least some members, it may be more useful to them to have an opportunity to get a strong vote on a signal, and even better if they can secure that signal,” he said. 

Since leaders are shooting for a successful bill, they’re unlikely to allow some of the more controversial amendments to get a vote.

But for senators up for reelection in 2016, pushing an amendment can often reap rewards, regardless of the outcome.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), one of the top targets for Democrats in 2016, is using the bill to push for changes to the federal ethanol mandate, using language aimed at reducing the use of corn ethanol.

The Philadelphia area has one of the highest concentrations of fuel refiners on the East Coast, and they bear high costs to blend ethanol into gasoline or otherwise pay for ethanol credits. Still, Toomey maintained that the amendment would help a variety of Pennsylvanians. 

“It’s important to consumers, it’s important to anybody who’s raising livestock, it’s important to the dairy industry, it’s important to refiners, it’s important to people who care about the environment,” Toomey said in an interview.

Book said Toomey’s amendment would likely prove beneficial to refiners in Pennsylvania.

“If you hailed from a big refining center with several highly exposed independent refiners that did not want to bear the full costs … then this would be something that would certainly help at home,” Book said.

The underlying energy bill was drafted by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans jockey for position on immigration GOP senator knocks Trump: 'Not a fan of governing by tweet' How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed MORE (R-Alaska) and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellUse tax reform to strengthen what’s working: The low-income housing tax credit Senate energy bill is misguided gift to Trump’s dirty fossil fuel agenda Help states solve their housing problems with the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act MORE (D-Wash.), who have fought to keep the legislation bipartisan. 

The measure is intended to improve infrastructure such as pipelines and the electric grid, expedite natural gas export projects and clean up outdated code. It passed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee 18-4.

While Murkowski is not considered to be at risk of losing her seat in 2016, passage of the legislation would be a feather in her cap that would show an ability to shepherd wide-ranging legislation through the Senate.

She’s proposed amendments designed to help the hydroelectric power industry, an important source of electricity for Alaska. 

“She’s obviously looking at this bill to do some energy-related Alaska business,” said Book. 

Another Republican senator facing a tough race, Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Reddit hires first lobbyists Senate panel approves bill compelling researchers to ‘hack’ DHS MORE (R-Ohio), could also score wins in the bill.

Portman successfully pushed the addition of energy efficiency legislation he wrote with Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenHomeland Security searching some social media doesn't violate privacy The feds shouldn't blackball Kaspersky without public evidence Week ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny MORE (D-N.H.) in the package, but he’s trying to get the rest of the measure in.

“It’s something I want to get done for my constituents. It’s the right thing for the country, it’s the right thing for Ohio manufacturers, it’s the right thing for all of us who will pay less in utility bills, it’s the right thing for making the environment cleaner,” Portman said, adding that he believes it will create 200,000 jobs. 

Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkGiffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Immigration critics find their champion in Trump MORE (R-Ill.) is using the bill to try to stop a proposed Canadian nuclear waste site right on the shore of Lake Huron. It’s faced a lot of opposition from all of the Great Lakes states, including Illinois.

Kirk, another top Democratic target in 2016, said his amendment “adds further scrutiny” to the project.

The provision would establish a non-binding “sense of Congress” that the facility should not be built, and directs the State Department to oppose it through diplomatic means.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker to unveil bill banning gun bump stocks Senate Homeland Security chairman backs bump-stock ban after Las Vegas shootings MORE (R-Wis.), meanwhile, has proposed amendments on endangered species. One seeks reinstate a decision removing protections for the gray wolf around the Great Lakes, after a judge undid the decision.

“I strongly agree with Wisconsin’s farmers, ranchers, loggers and sportsmen that future gray wolf listing decisions should come from the experts, and not from judges,” Johnson said in a statement last year after introducing similar legislation 

Johnson, who is expected to face a close reelection race against former Sen. Russ Feingold, also has an amendment to prevent the northern long-eared bat from getting protection as an endangered species.