Obstacles remain on Senate energy bill, Flint aid

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Energy overhaul legislation and an aid package for Flint, Mich., remain stalled in the Senate with no prospects for quick action.

“I keep hearing that they’re closer and closer to resolution, but they haven’t gotten there yet. I’m not giving up hope,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who has been heavily involved in negotiations, said yesterday she had no new progress to report. She said Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) continues to have a hold on the Flint bill, despite efforts to address his concerns that the $220 million in aid for Flint and other communities with lead-tainted water should be offset.

A Lee spokesman also said this week no new progress has been made.

The Senate last month seemed on track for a deal to move a broad energy bill in tandem with the Flint aid.

Under a proposed agreement, the Senate would have agreed to call up the bills together and then separate them once they were on the floor. The accord would have also made about three dozen amendments in order on the energy bill.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has said he would hold up action on the energy bill if an amendment from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to expand federal revenue sharing for offshore drilling is part of the package.

Lee’s opposition, though, is the immediate obstacle to even taking up the bills, and it left senators weighing other options.

“We’re always talking about plan B, but we’re still working on plan A,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

Other options include attaching it to the expected package to address Puerto Rico’s financial and energy crises or tacking it on to the Water Resources Development Act, an upcoming bill that gives the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the go-ahead to build locks, dams and other major public works projects.

“Anything is possible,” Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said, referring to attaching the Flint package to WRDA.

Inhofe also vouched for a plan promoted by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to reauthorize the Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds as part of WRDA. “That’s one of the few good things that’s out there,” Inhofe said.

Congress last reauthorized the Clean Water SRF in 1992 and the Drinking Water SRF in 2003.

Cardin has introduced a bill that would allow up to $5.5 billion for drinking water projects in fiscal 2021 and $9 billion for wastewater upgrades in the same year. But on Monday, he supported adding the authorization to WRDA, saying that it would have a better chance of passing into law than a stand-alone bill (E&E Daily, April 5). Some of those dollars in the water project funds could go to Flint.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a senior Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee member, said he remained “optimistic” on the energy bill emerging. But, he said, one option to file cloture to overcome any holds would probably require too much time.

Floor time will soon be limited in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday that beginning in mid-May he would devote 12 weeks to the fiscal 2017 spending bills (see related story). Those too have been eyed as possible sources of Flint funds.

Reporters Geof Koss and Tiffany Stecker contributed.