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 MurkowskiSinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw McConnell lashes out at Democrats over 'unhinged' criticism of Kavanaugh 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 CantwellHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' 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 BoozmanVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen MORE (Ark.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' 2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft MORE (Ark.), Jim Lankford (Okla.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' Hillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOn The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight MORE (Ky.), David Perdue (Ga.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump faces difficult balancing act with reelection campaign Republicans wary of US action on Iran California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE (Fla.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTo boost minority serving institutions, bipartisan Future Act needs immediate action Cruz to oppose Trump appeals court pick The Hill's Morning Report — The wall problem confronting Dems and the latest on Dorian MORE (S.C.), Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDemocrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Democrats bicker over strategy on impeachment 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 CruzCruz endorses GOP candidate for Senate in New Hampshire Missouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan MORE (R-Texas) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Krystal Ball calls on Sanders to follow Yang's lead on war on drugs Buttigieg calls Warren 'evasive' on Medicare for all 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 MonizTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded Biden under pressure from environmentalists on climate plan Pelosi, Clinton among attendees at memorial reception for Ellen Tauscher 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 StabenowDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks USDA cuts payments promised to researchers as agency uproots to Kansas City 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.”