Cantwell cites ‘good progress’ after latest conference huddle

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) struck a more positive tone on negotiations to go to conference with the House on energy after meeting with top House and Senate lawmakers this morning, but stopped short of saying she’s ready to vote to launch formal talks.

The ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee described “good conversations” with Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); House Energy and Commerce chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.); and House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

“We made some good progress, that’s all I can say,” Cantwell told Greenwire after the hourlong huddle in the Capitol this morning. Cantwell and Murkowski met privately for 30 minutes after their House colleagues left.

“We had good conversations and just talked about how we can deal with the fact that the Senate passed such a bipartisan bill, and how do you rectify that with a House product that [has] a lot of things that are very problematic,” she said.

Asked if she was ready for the vote to go to conference, she responded, “We’re in a dialogue stage.”

Murkowski has hoped to see a vote to go to conference this week, but a GOP aide said that is unlikely.

Environmentalists yesterday urged senators to oppose a conference, saying the House bill would undermine multiple environmental laws (E&E Daily, June 22).

Cantwell has repeatedly raised concerns about the number of bills included in the House’s energy package that have drawn veto threats, but today described the discussions as positive.

“For conferees to sit down and start talking is always a positive thing because it shows that people want to try to get an end product that can actually pass, so I think the fact that members are willing to commit time to dialoguing about how to get to an end product that can pass is a very, very good step, and we need to keep moving along that,” she said.

Cantwell said the fact that there are two House committees with jurisdiction over the legislation is a complicating factor.

“That creates its own little challenge, as well, because we passed a whole bill,” she said of the House’s split jurisdiction. “You have to have a lot of dialogue about the Interior part, and then you have to have a lot of dialogue about the energy part and then what does that look like as a whole.”

As he left the meeting, Grijalva said the discussions on going to conference will continue.

“It’s a good dialogue in the sense that the question is should we or should we not, and we continue to talk about that,” he told Greenwire.

However, he signaled that there are outstanding disagreements over the differences between the chambers’ bills, which he described as “severe.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “I don’t know yet.”

Grijalva reiterated those concerns about the House bill when asked if he was ready to launch formal talks.

“Obviously, we’ve raised some concerns what we feel are part of the House bills that are problematic, to say the least,” he said.