Election-year energy sweeps the Senate

Election-year energy sweeps the Senate
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Floor action on energy reform legislation is giving vulnerable Republican senators an opportunity to show they can deliver for their home states. 

The legislation, which the Senate started debating on Jan. 27, is one of the few wide-ranging bills likely to pass in a year where lawmakers are likely to spend more time on the campaign trail than in Washington.


Leaders in both parties are committed to getting the bill across the finish line, providing senators with a rare chance to sponsor amendments that are important to their constituents.

The chamber is using an open amendment process, in which any senator can propose an addition to the legislation. Scores of them have done so, though their proposals can only advance through the unanimous consent of the Senate. 

“Arguably, for Republican members, successful completion of a non-controversial bill probably is better for their reelection prospects,” said Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners, a consulting firm. 

“But for at least some members, it may be more useful to them to have an opportunity to get a strong vote on a signal, and even better if they can secure that signal,” he said. 

Since leaders are shooting for a successful bill, they’re unlikely to allow some of the more controversial amendments to get a vote.

But for senators up for reelection in 2016, pushing an amendment can often reap rewards, regardless of the outcome.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), one of the top targets for Democrats in 2016, is using the bill to push for changes to the federal ethanol mandate, using language aimed at reducing the use of corn ethanol.

The Philadelphia area has one of the highest concentrations of fuel refiners on the East Coast, and they bear high costs to blend ethanol into gasoline or otherwise pay for ethanol credits. Still, Toomey maintained that the amendment would help a variety of Pennsylvanians. 

“It’s important to consumers, it’s important to anybody who’s raising livestock, it’s important to the dairy industry, it’s important to refiners, it’s important to people who care about the environment,” Toomey said in an interview.

Book said Toomey’s amendment would likely prove beneficial to refiners in Pennsylvania.

“If you hailed from a big refining center with several highly exposed independent refiners that did not want to bear the full costs … then this would be something that would certainly help at home,” Book said.

The underlying energy bill was drafted by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (R-Alaska) and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellFAA nominee advances to full Senate vote Women lawmakers to play in Congressional Baseball Game following Title IX anniversary Hillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote MORE (D-Wash.), who have fought to keep the legislation bipartisan. 

The measure is intended to improve infrastructure such as pipelines and the electric grid, expedite natural gas export projects and clean up outdated code. It passed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee 18-4.

While Murkowski is not considered to be at risk of losing her seat in 2016, passage of the legislation would be a feather in her cap that would show an ability to shepherd wide-ranging legislation through the Senate.

She’s proposed amendments designed to help the hydroelectric power industry, an important source of electricity for Alaska. 

“She’s obviously looking at this bill to do some energy-related Alaska business,” said Book. 

Another Republican senator facing a tough race, Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems MORE (R-Ohio), could also score wins in the bill.

Portman successfully pushed the addition of energy efficiency legislation he wrote with Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (D-N.H.) in the package, but he’s trying to get the rest of the measure in.

“It’s something I want to get done for my constituents. It’s the right thing for the country, it’s the right thing for Ohio manufacturers, it’s the right thing for all of us who will pay less in utility bills, it’s the right thing for making the environment cleaner,” Portman said, adding that he believes it will create 200,000 jobs. 

Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby MORE (R-Ill.) is using the bill to try to stop a proposed Canadian nuclear waste site right on the shore of Lake Huron. It’s faced a lot of opposition from all of the Great Lakes states, including Illinois.

Kirk, another top Democratic target in 2016, said his amendment “adds further scrutiny” to the project.

The provision would establish a non-binding “sense of Congress” that the facility should not be built, and directs the State Department to oppose it through diplomatic means.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Trump may intervene in Pentagon cloud-computing contract: report Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (R-Wis.), meanwhile, has proposed amendments on endangered species. One seeks reinstate a decision removing protections for the gray wolf around the Great Lakes, after a judge undid the decision.

“I strongly agree with Wisconsin’s farmers, ranchers, loggers and sportsmen that future gray wolf listing decisions should come from the experts, and not from judges,” Johnson said in a statement last year after introducing similar legislation 

Johnson, who is expected to face a close reelection race against former Sen. Russ Feingold, also has an amendment to prevent the northern long-eared bat from getting protection as an endangered species.