‘Big four’ to huddle on conference impasse

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2016

Key House and Senate lawmakers are planning to meet next week to discuss how an energy conference committee would operate, as Democrats in the upper chamber continue to express doubts about the prospects of reconciling competing bills.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and co-sponsor of the Senate package, S. 2012, told E&E Daily about the likely meeting.

“I think we’re going to sit down and talk among ourselves, the four corners, and see,” she said, referring to herself, Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

Cantwell reiterated concerns about the House including multiple bills in the chamber’s revised energy package. The White House has threaten to veto many of the new provisions in statements of administration policy.

“Sending over seven bills that have already been SAPed is kind of not a great place to start,” Cantwell said. “So let’s have a discussion.”

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the Energy and Power Subcommittee and will play a key role in conference, said yesterday he would welcome a discussion about Democratic concerns, but he rejected the notion that any issues should be taken off the table ahead of conference.

“We don’t view that this is that strong of an energy bill,” he told E&E Dailyyesterday. “It’s not like we accomplished a lot in this bill, so we’re not about to give up the few things we did, but we’re happy to have some discussions and maybe they’ve got some things and we can get some more things and whatever. That’s what a conference is about.”

Whitfield described two Democratic concerns — House language giving states a greater role in setting Department of Energy efficiency standards and repealing a 2007 law that requires some federal buildings to zero out fossil energy use by 2030 — as “sort of minor things.”

“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “If they want to be more ambitious, then we’re certainly willing to try to meet them halfway because I think there are other things that we can accomplish.”

Whitfield said, “So if they don’t like what we’ve sent them, then I guess what they need to do is come forth with a specific package of what they’re really trying to accomplish.”

Cantwell said she was particularly concerned about some of the House’s efficiency provisions. She said they would undercut provisions of the broad efficiency title in the Senate bill, which are based on the legislation authored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

“When you have a bill that basically strips out all the energy efficiency — that’s what we voted for 85-12, was Shaheen-Portman plus greater energy efficiency — and they have a bill that’s coming over that’s you know ‘kill all that,'” said Cantwell, “I’m just trying to understand how they see us resolving these issues.”

She added: “I have no idea whether they’re serious about working out those differences in a bipartisan fashion. So we’ll have to see.”

Shaheen, who has labored for years to see the broad efficiency package enacted, said she was dismayed to see the latest iteration on the ropes.

“I think it’s disappointing what the House has sent over, legislation that has gutted so many of the positive provisions that were in the Senate energy bill,” she said in an interview. “And I hope they will reconsider and we can put out something that is positive. I don’t understand the opposition to creating jobs and reducing costs to consumers and cleaning up pollution.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he had real doubts about the ability of negotiators to reach a compromise based on what the House sent over.

“My first thought is that the House bill has so many troublesome provisions that I don’t know if a conference would be productive at this point,” he said.

Murkowski said yesterday she was working to assure wary Democrats that the conference, which she would chair, would be focused on producing a bill that the president would sign.

“As I’ve said so many times before, I’m not interested in spending a lot of time just to have it be vetoed,” she said.