Lawmakers weigh walking back amendment stalling energy bill votes

Lawmakers weigh walking back amendment stalling energy bill votes
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers are working on a compromise to an amendment that risks stalling an otherwise popular energy package.

The American Energy Innovation Act would spur research and development into a number of types of energy, the first major package on the topic in over a decade.

But an amendment to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioners is holding up a broader vote.

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Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoNo better time to modernize America's energy infrastructure EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former Rep. Harman says Russia is trying to exploit America; Mylan's Heather Bresch says US should make strategic reserve in medicines; Trump unveils leaders of 'Warp Speed' MORE (R-Wyo.) is fighting for language that would block states from setting their own stricter standards on the substance. 

The White House has also expressed opposition to the amendment, echoing Barrasso's position. 

Barrasso told The Hill Thursday he is working with amendment sponsors Sens. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump threatens coronavirus funds for states easing voting OVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 MORE (D-Del.) to tweak the amendment, arguing such legislation should have passed through the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee that he chairs.

“This is trying to airdrop something into the energy bill that's been referred to another committee. The idea of having committees is to vet ideas,” Barrasso said. “They chose to bypass the committee process and ignore some of the suggestions or have not yet accepted some of the suggestions that I think would help improve it.”

When asked for comment by The Hill, Kennedy said only, "We're working on it."

Kennedy and Carper gave passionate floor speeches on Wednesday, pleading with lawmakers for movement on their amendment.

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Kennedy in particular argued no one senator should hold up a vote.

"It doesn't mean to have to vote for it," he said. "You can vote against it. But please let the entire body have a vote. Because that is what democracy is supposed to be about."

Carper also argued the preemption issue should not stall a vote.

“Let's go ahead and get the bill out, get it through the process, through the House, and then later on if we need to revisit the issue of preemption, and we can do that,” Carper told reporters Tuesday, arguing the legislation is widely back by both industry and environmentalist.

“Nobody’s asking for this,” he said of industry groups.

Lawmakers have proposed adding numerous amendments to the American Energy Innovation Act, which is seen as  the best chance this year for passing legislation to expand the use of cleaner forms of energy.

One proposal would seek to incorporate provisions from Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanCongress headed toward unemployment showdown McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill Fight emerges over unemployment benefits in next relief bill MORE (R-Ohio) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenThis week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting Open Skies withdrawal throws nuclear treaty into question GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE (D-N.H.) to strengthen building codes to make new homes more energy efficient.

Another, proposed by Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel House to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance COVID-19 increases importance of implementing reforms to organ donation system MORE (D-Ore.), would aim to expand tax incentives for electric vehicles and renewable energy.

The Portman-Shaheen provision has bipartisan support, but is opposed by groups including the National Association of Home Builders.

Portman emphasized to The Hill on Thursday that the codes would be voluntary and at states’ discretion. 

"It is better information for states and localities to be able to come up with better codes, but they don't have to accept it. Who could be against that, right?" he said. 

Updated at 4:55 p.m.