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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 MurkowskiRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring 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 CantwellBiden looks to bolster long-term research and development Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations 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 GOP opens door to earmarks Arkansas governor quietly bucking GOP's dive into culture wars Trump allies line up ahead of potentially bruising primaries MORE (Ark.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Republican lawmakers reintroduce bill to ban TikTok on federal devices MORE (Ark.), Jim Lankford (Okla.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeBiden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Hillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after pushback from Klobuchar, Lee MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle Fauci on Tucker Carlson vaccine comments: 'Typical crazy conspiracy theory' MORE (Ky.), David Perdue (Ga.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Senators reintroduce bill to block NATO withdrawal New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE (Fla.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottBass 'hopeful' on passing police reform: 'Republicans that I am working with are operating in good faith' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Tim Scott to participate in GOP event in Iowa MORE (S.C.), Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGarland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings 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 CruzTrump looms over Senate's anti-Asian hate crimes battle Republicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost US has seen 45 mass shootings in the past month MORE (R-Texas) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP believes Democrats handing them winning 2022 campaign Senators in the dark on parliamentarian's decision World passes 3 million coronavirus deaths 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: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Moniz: Texas blackouts show need to protect infrastructure against climate change The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Back to the future on immigration, Afghanistan, Iran 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 StabenowSerious about climate change? Get serious about agriculture Five things to watch on Biden infrastructure plan Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand electric vehicle charging tax credit 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.”