Energy & Environment

Senate energy panel approves reform bill

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted Thursday to approve its attempt at the first broad energy policy reform bill in eight years.

The Energy Policy Modernization Act passed by a vote of 18-4 after three days of debate. The panel approved various bipartisan amendments but rejected others that did not have wide support.

{mosads}The bill includes a number of policy priorities from both Republicans and Democrats and came as a result of months of negotiations, meetings outreach and other activities aimed at a truly bipartisan bill.

“No one’s getting everything they want, for sure,” Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said after the voting was complete. “But I do think that this in an impressive journey that we have gone down for the past several months.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, struck a similar tone.

“Today represents the first step in the long but important journey,” she said. “This committee has gone too long without moving energy policy legislation.”

The package includes provisions to expedite the export of liquefied natural gas, indefinitely authorize the federal government’s main conservation fund, reform or remove outdated programs and better prepare the electric grid for modern needs, among other policies.

The three days of debate were mostly cordial, with senators agreeing to withdraw nearly all controversial amendments and bring them back up when the full Senate considers the measure.

In rare breaks from the cordiality, debate erupted over efforts by liberal senators to force lawmakers to recognize climate change, add environmental reviews before natural gas export projects are built and exempt certain oil or gas wells from federal review.

But Murkowski and Cantwell emphasized bipartisanship over nearly everything else.

Before the Thursday markup, Murkowski agreed to remove provisions to ease permitting for hydroelectric projects, since some Democrats had brought up objections.

“We have made good progress on hydro reform in recent years in this committee. I think our bill makes even more progress,” she said. “But questions arose regarding changes that the ranking member and I and our staffs had agreed to.”

In the Thursday meeting, the only amendment the panel agreed to attach, from Sen. John Barrasso (R-N.D.), would allow the Interior Department to exempt from federal permitting certain proposed oil and gas wells for which the government only owns a minority stake in the mineral rights.

Only Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, voted against the bill.

The senators also used the meeting to approve a bill to lift the ban on crude oil exports and increase offshore drilling, a measure from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to improve energy efficiency in buildings and a non-controversial package of federal land bills.

Tags Lisa Murkowski Maria Cantwell Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

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