Controversies can wait for conference — Murkowski

Source: Hannah Hess, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2016

As the clock ticks down to recess, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski said none of the controversial provisions in the House-passed energy package is being “singled out” ahead of a possible conference committee to merge each chamber’s reform bill.

Rather than ticking through a list of controversial provisions that could sink the effort, the Alaska Republican said she and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) were laying out a process to tackle the disagreements in conference.

“To say ‘this is on the table, that’s off the table,’ my gosh — we would be here till kingdom come trying to sort through all that,” Murkowski told reporters this morning.

Democrats have raised alarm about House provisions on drought, wildfire and riders related to the National Environmental Policy Act. Yesterday, one top Senate leader predicted the conference was “doomed to failure” (E&E Daily, June 29).

But Murkowski pushed back, saying she was “smiling this morning” after a productive discussion with Cantwell.

“We made significant headway yesterday,” she said. “I’m feeling pretty good.”

Several items in the revised energy package that cleared the House last month have received veto threats from the White House.

Asked about the permanent extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the Senate bill, an issue House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) has deemed a nonstarter, Murkowski said that was an issue to be worked through during formal negotiations.

“There’s nothing that we have singled out and taken off the tree and said, ‘We’re going to resolve this ahead of time so that we’ve all got comfort,'” she said. “We have decided not to do that.”

With the House taking a break this week for the July Fourth holiday, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) were not involved in yesterday’s discussion. Non-energy issues have generated the most disagreement during previous meetings (Greenwire, June 22).

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, another Energy Committee Democrat, said today that certain environmental riders were still a sticking point. He was uncertain whether negotiators could work out a deal before the chamber’s summer recess.

Murkowski emphasized teamwork.

“This is not just the two of us working this, but making sure that everyone is comfortable with the process going forward,” she said, noting Cantwell’s support would be key to moving the bill forward.

A Senate vote to proceed to conference with the House needs 60 votes to pass. The House has already appointed conferees.

“I think I can fairly say that based on the outcome of our discussions yesterday, we’re both feeling like we made some good headway,” Murkowski added.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), former chairman of the panel, said Senate leaders seemed to be making an effort to find a path forward.

“That to me was the message of today’s vote on Puerto Rico. In all of these issues, nobody gets everything they want. Nobody gets everything they believe they ought to have. You’ve got to at some point try to find some common ground,” Wyden said.

Reporter Corbin Hiar contributed.