Energy bill stalled amid amendment gridlock

Source: BY REBECCA BEITSCH AND JORDAIN CARNEY • Posted: Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A mammoth energy policy bill hit a roadblock in the Senate on Monday night with a stalemate over amendments threatening to derail the legislation entirely.

Lawmakers voted against closing debate on an updated version of the bill that included a package of noncontroversial amendments forwarded by its sponsors, a sign lawmakers are still eager to push for some of the 191 amendments that have been proposed for the bill.

The path forward for the bill, which had been expected to pass as soon as Tuesday, is now unclear. Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) did vote against it, a procedural tactic that could allow him to try to end debate for a second time if he’s able to reach a deal.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said negotiations had stalled on a path forward on amendments.

“We’ll probably end up having to pivot something else, until we figure out if there’s a way we can get this back on track,” Thune told The Hill.

The American Energy Innovation Act, sponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would spur research and development into a number of types of energy, the first major package on the topic in more than a decade.

Democrats have been fighting to add amendments that would phase down the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioners, as well as another that could push to make new homes more energy efficient.

The White House and a few senators have expressed opposition to the HFCs amendment, arguing that federal standards should supersede any passed by the states.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) threatened to filibuster the bill hours ahead of Monday night’s votes, accusing McConnell of blocking an otherwise popular amendment from Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) that could help fight climate change.

“They’re thousands of times more damaging to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Phasing out these HFCs is very important. And it will go a long way in fighting climate change and protecting the environment for future generations,” he said, calling the energy bill “a real rare opportunity to make tangible progress.”

But even with numerous Republicans crossing the aisle to continue the debate, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin(D-Ill.) said they had gotten no sign from Republicans that they are willing to give Democrats the amendment votes they want.

“We don’t know yet, we don’t know,” Durbin said as he left the Capitol for the day, asked what’s next for the energy bill.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has been the lead Senate voice pushing back against the HFC provision, arguing it should have passed through his committee and should also contain preemption language that blocks states from setting any standards on HFCs that might be stricter than those of the federal government.

“This is trying to airdrop something into the energy bill that’s been referred to another committee. The idea of having committees is to vet ideas,” Barrasso told The Hill on Thursday. “They chose to bypass the committee process and ignore some of the suggestions or have not yet accepted some of the suggestions that I think would help improve it.”

Barrasso and Kennedy said Thursday they were working together on a compromise, but Kennedy has repeatedly expressed frustration that his amendment might be held back from a vote because of complaints from a handful of senators.

“It doesn’t mean you have to vote for it,” he said on the floor last week. “You can vote against it. But please let the entire body have a vote. Because that is what democracy is supposed to be about.”

Manchin, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was likewise irritated by the holdup Monday night.

“This is the most legislating this body has done this entire Congress,” Manchin said in a late evening statement. “It’s a shame the good work of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee was impacted by the Environment and Public Works Committee’s inability to reach consensus. We will continue to put in the work to get this bill across the finish line.”