Key lawmakers promise to keep talking on bill conference

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Top House and Senate lawmakers huddled behind closed doors yesterday evening to discuss how a formal conference committee might reconcile the chambers’ competing energy reform packages. Even though they didn’t say much afterward, the meeting went well enough for them to promise more talks.

Participants, who included energy policy leaders from both chambers, were tight-lipped about the roughly 45-minute gathering in the Capitol but offered positive comments about the tone of the discussion.

“We’re talking, we had a good conversation and we’re going to talk some more,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told reporters.

Cantwell and Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) met privately for about 30 minutes after the other lawmakers left.

Cantwell said she planned to speak with Democratic colleagues in the coming days, and another meeting of the principal lawmakers was possible by early next week.

Cantwell has been an outspoken critic of the House’s revised energy bill, which includes multiple bills that the White House has threatened to veto, and her concerns have raised the possibility of the Senate falling short of the 60 votes necessary to go to conference with the House.

Yesterday’s meeting was intended to help clear the air over the differences between each chamber’s bill and discuss how the process would unfold (E&E Daily, June 13).

Earlier yesterday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told E&E Daily that the chamber could vote as soon as this week on going to conference. The timing remains in flux.

“We’re working on that, we certainly hope so,” he said. “We don’t have anything to announce yet.”

Asked last night about the possibility of a vote, Murkowski said, “We are working through all of that right now.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who has been an outspoken critic of his chamber’s efforts to craft a bipartisan energy package, declined to comment after leaving.

“We’re having some discussions,” he told reporters. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said discussions would continue. Earlier in the day, Upton noted that he had not yet spoken with House Democrats about the conference.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the group would “keep working and get back together again.”

Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who strongly opposes the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the Senate’s bill, described the huddle as a “get-to-know-you meeting.”

Bishop, who last week rejected the idea of taking controversial issues off the table ahead of the conference as “silly,” seemed upbeat.

“I think all those issues can be easily dealt with in the conference,” he said.

Reporters George Cahlink and Hannah Hess contributed.