Energy & Environment

Energy members begin hunt for compromise reform bill

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Congressional leaders struck a conciliatory tone on Thursday, promising to work together to pass an energy reform bill by the end of the year. 

But members of a House and Senate conference committee nonetheless exposed the differences lawmakers have to overcome if they want to write that bill.  

{mosads}During the first formal meeting of a House and Senate energy bill conference committee, members on both sides of the aisle said they wanted to “prove the skeptics wrong,” as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, and write a compromise bill that can pass this session.

“I think there are some who would admit readily that they never thought we would get this far, that they doubted whether we would be able to write this bill, much less pass it, let alone get to conference,” Murkowski, the committee chairman, said, noting the difficulties with which the House and Senate passed their energy bills. 

“Our task now is to develop a final bill that can be signed into law.” 

Democrats agreed with the goal, with Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) saying, “I am optimistic that the conference committee can resolve the differences between the House and the Senate and produce a bill that the president can sign.” 

Members have tried for nearly two years to craft the first federal energy reform bill since 2007. 

The House and Senate bills right now aim to clean up federal energy laws, expand liquefied natural gas exports, encourage energy efficiency provisions and provide new cybersecurity measures for the electric grid. The goals, industry supporters say, are less lofty than those from past energy overhaul efforts.

Even so, the two parties are likely to run into problems on the way to a final bill.

Those differences were already on display during Thursday’s hearing. Cantwell and other Democrats said they want to expand the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a measure some Republicans, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), are likely to oppose. 

Bishop also noted conservative provisions in the House bill related to drought relief, forestry management, Native American energy production and energy transmission on public lands, issues that have rankled some Democrats. 

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the House Energy Committee, said he wants a final package to expand energy infrastructure spending, and he and several Democrats said the final bill should address climate change, matters Republicans haven’t addressed in their bills. 

Amid other members’ talk of compromise, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) warned that “if some of the Democrats do not want to reach an agreement, I would just tell them, ‘Do not assume that this opportunity or that this offer will be available in the next Congress.’”

Despite the differences, leaders of both chambers’ energy panels have long pledged to write a bill that can gain congressional support and win President Obama’s signature, even if it means stripping partisan provisions out of the final package. 

They repeated that pledge on Thursday.

“I think that there is a sweet spot that we can rally around,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said.

“I’m here to listen and work … and not take the avenue of sending a bill to the president that he would veto. That is not on my list of things to get done. It’s not going to happen.”

Tags energy bill John Barrasso Lisa Murkowski Maria Cantwell Rob Bishop

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