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 MurkowskiRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump 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 CantwellFive tech stories to watch in 2020 Hillicon Valley: House panel unveils draft of privacy bill | Senate committee approves bill to sanction Russia | Dems ask HUD to review use of facial recognition | Uber settles sexual harassment charges for .4M Key House committee offers online privacy bill draft 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 BoozmanAppropriators fume over reports of Trump plan to reprogram .2 billion for wall The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (Ark.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short | House passes bills to win 5G race | Feds sound alarm on cyberthreat from Iran | Ivanka Trump appearance at tech show sparks backlash Cotton introduces bill blocking intel sharing with countries relying on Huawei for 5G GOP senators introduce resolution to change rules, dismiss impeachment without articles MORE (Ark.), Jim Lankford (Okla.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Graham on impeachment trial: 'End this crap as quickly as possible' MORE (Ky.), David Perdue (Ga.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioApple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Surging Sanders draws fresh scrutiny ahead of debate MORE (Fla.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenate panel advances Trump's new NAFTA despite GOP gripes Trump to sign order penalizing colleges over perceived anti-Semitism on campus: report Here are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump MORE (S.C.), Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsICE subpoenas Denver law enforcement: report Bottom Line DOJ inquiry tied to Clinton, touted by Trump winds down with no tangible results: report 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 CruzSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Senate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (R-Texas) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary 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 MonizAl Franken to host SiriusXM radio show Two years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded Biden under pressure from environmentalists on climate plan 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 StabenowThe Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial John Lewis to miss Martin Luther King Jr. Day event Bottom Line 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.”