Energy & Environment

Murkowski fumes over stalled energy bill

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is fuming after a surprise vote in the Senate killed momentum for a long-awaited energy bill.

Murkowski lashed out at GOP colleagues following an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday morning, a day after many of her fellow Republicans crossed the aisle to hit the brakes on the bipartisan legislation.

“You have a few individuals who feel that their priority needs to trump everything else that we’re doing around here,” she told reporters.

Her remarks were in response to a 15-73 vote Monday night that failed to end debate on a measure she introduced with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). The American Energy Innovation Act would spur research and development for different types of energy, addressing the topic for the first time in more than a decade.

They also voted down ending debate on a package of amendments from Murkowski that did not include an amendment to phase down the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

The HFCs amendment has been the main hold up on the bill, with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) threatening a filibuster if it wasn’t considered. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) — the main sponsors of the amendment — have been pushing for a vote, but they’ve faced fierce opposition from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and even the White House.

Barrasso argues that the amendment pertains more to his committee, Environment and Public Works (EPW), and that the measure should contain preemption language blocking states from setting any standards that might be stricter than those of the federal government.

Though the White House has also expressed concern over the HFCs amendment, citing the lack of a preemption provision, Murkowski said that’s not what derailed the underlying bill.

Murkowski directed her frustration at both Kennedy — wondering if other legislation would get held up in a quest for a vote on the HFCs amendment — and Barrasso, who refused to give the HFCs bill a hearing in his committee.

“I’m a co-sponsor of that HFC bill. It’s not that I oppose it — I didn’t block that — but the chairman of the committee decided that they weren’t ready for whatever reason, and so there was no deal,” Murkowski said, referring to Barrasso.

“But again, as the chairman of the Energy Committee, I can’t fix EPW’s problems,” she added.

Senate GOP leaders said disagreement over the amendment has likely pushed the bill off the legislative calendar until after next week’s recess.

“It’s not dead, but it’s going to have to be revived. Right now, it’s certainly stalled,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters Tuesday.

Murkowski, who burst into Tuesday’s hearing growling like a bear and mimicking claws with her hands, sounded more pessimistic.

“Maybe John Thune is wrong. Maybe it’s not coming back at all. Because right now, I don’t know who I’m going to work with,” she told reporters. “I don’t know whether your recorders are picking up my anger, but this process is not right.”

There had been much wrangling over amendments leading up to Monday night’s showdown. Murkowski had offered a vote on a package of tax breaks on renewable energy sought by Schumer, as well as votes on competing HFCs amendments, giving Barrasso a chance to offer one with his changes.

But Schumer preferred to move ahead with just the HFCs amendments, Murkowski said, while Barrasso declined to move ahead with an amendment of his own.

“Sen. Kennedy and I said, ‘We’ll do that,’ and Sen. Barrasso said, ‘No, thank you,’” Carper confirmed.

Barrasso maintains the idea should have been vetted first by his committee.

While Schumer on Monday accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of blocking an HFCs amendment that “will go a long way in fighting climate change,” the GOP leader said Democrats were pushing the energy bill beyond its original intent.

“Yesterday, the Democratic leader decided to change his tune and demand a vote on something outside the scope of the current debate. I hope we can get past the showmanship, finish this bipartisan legislation and send it to the House so we can get it on the president’s desk. Let’s don’t squander this real opportunity,” McConnell said.

Kennedy and Carper both said they were unsure how they might move forward with their amendment, though they plan to work with Murkowski.

“What happened yesterday surprised a lot of people,” Carper said Tuesday. “But I don’t know that they should be entirely surprised. Two-thirds of the Senate actually support the Kennedy-Carper provisions.”

So far, any discussions with Murkowski have yet to take place.

“Nobody’s really talking to me, and for good reason. Because I will take their head off,” Murkowski said.

Tags Charles Schumer energy bill HFCs Joe Manchin John Barrasso John Kennedy John Thune Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Tom Carper

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