Murkowski, Cantwell plot next steps for reform bill negotiations

Source: Hannah Hess, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, July 8, 2016

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) skipped a meeting with her party’s presumptive presidential nominee yesterday morning to work on the framework for an energy reform conference committee.

Murkowski met Wednesday with ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to hammer out more plans. The two senators are working out “a process for how we can kind of get the conference going and started and kind of keep it moving along,” Murkowski said.

The House appointed conferees weeks ago to merge its reworked energy package with the Senate’s S. 2012, but the upper chamber has yet to follow through. Murkowski has been lobbying for a vote on launching the conference as soon as possible.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is still angling to get his proposal to expand states’ share of offshore drilling revenues added to the long list of controversial items negotiators will have to sift through as they craft the first broad energy policy update in nearly a decade.

Cassidy said yesterday that if his revenue-sharing bill, S. 3110, passes the Senate, it can be part of the conference.

But with Democrats threatening to derail the process over controversial House provisions, Murkowski may not want to add more acrimony to the mix. Democrats worry Cassidy’s proposal would expand drilling.

When asked whether the revenue-sharing bill had been part of the pre-conference negotiations, Murkowski told E&E Daily that she and Cantwell are “not talking about it, whether it’s Sen. Cassidy’s specific issue or anybody else’s individual items.”

Murkowski said that “right now, what everybody is waiting for is, ‘Is the Senate going to vote to go to conference?'”

With Congress scheduled to take a seven-week recess starting next Friday, pro-energy bill lawmakers hope their Capitol Hill staff can start to hash out some of the more controversial items while they are home campaigning ahead of the November elections.

And if President Obama could sign the sweeping legislation into law before the elections, it would be a big win for energy boosters in both parties.

“We’ve got one more week here before we break for August, so my hope is that we’ll be able to see some resolve on this,” Murkowski said. “There’s a lot of legwork that has to go on that will entail staff, just kind of getting organized. We’d like them to be able to do that.”

Cassidy knows his revenue-sharing provision, a policy he has pushed since his days in the House, has a better shot at becoming law if it’s part of the sweeping energy package. However, he is not making demands or threatening to hold up progress on the broader talks.

“I think it’s fair to say that the energy conference has had some challenges, right? And so to be realistic, this would probably increase those challenges, which is not to say it’s not something that we’re interested in. But we also, you know, are looking at the lay of the land, if you will,” he said.

Cassidy also said he had no guarantee from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who sets the chamber’s agenda, that his bill will get a vote in the next week.

“It’s, as you might guess, a little bit kind of dependent upon other things,” Cassidy said, but added that aides had assured his office the vote would be “timely, not kind of like the day before we [adjourn] sine die.”

Asked whether she has been whipping lawmakers to support a conference, Murkowski said she has been asking her colleagues ever since the House’s May vote: “Will you be there with us when we take a vote?”

Cantwell “has been talking with her colleagues, as well, kind of keeping them abreast of our discussions,” Murkowski said.

Cantwell and Murkowski have also met with key House leaders on energy. But House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said last night negotiators had yet to schedule another gathering.