Senate aims to wrap up energy spending bill this week

Source: George Cahlink and Hannah Hess, E&E reporters • Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Senate remains on track for approving its $37.5 billion fiscal 2017 energy and water development spending bill this week, after attaching nine bipartisan amendments to the legislation last night and setting up three more votes on the measure for today.

“I think we are in pretty good shape,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, yesterday. “I know of nothing that will keep us from finishing it pretty quickly.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed for cloture on the bill (H.R. 2028) and a substitute amendment last evening, moves that would allow him to have a vote to move to final passage as early as tomorrow. Invoking cloture would require 60 votes, a threshold seen as likely given the bipartisan support for the bill.

Alexander said the Senate will vote at 11 a.m. today on three more amendments to the bill, including an amendment by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to add $95 million for wind energy. The proposal faces opposition from Alexander, a longtime critic of federal support for wind who favors nuclear energy.

Grassley made his case for the amendment on the Senate floor yesterday by challenging critics who say wind energy is a mature technology that no longer needs federal support.

“Wind, while nearly mature, is just an infant compared to the federal dollars and incentives provided for fossil and nuclear energy,” said Grassley, noting that some oil and gas tax breaks have been in place for 100 years.

Also tomorrow, senators will vote on an amendment by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to steer $50 million toward Lake Mead. Following that, the upper chamber will vote on a proposal by Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake to cut $69 million from the Army Corps of Engineers’ construction account.

Senate leaders have yet to decide if they will allow a vote on a bipartisan amendment that says climate change is real and that “human activity contributes to climate change” (Greenwire, April 22).

“It puts the Senate on record and, assuming it passes, sets the stage for legislation. We need to focus on areas where we can actually both reduce emissions and improve the economy,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the amendment’s sponsors.

Another backer, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), said the bipartisan climate change amendment, filed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is “stronger” than three similar amendments that Republicans sank in January 2015.

“The statement about climate change, I think, is clearer and stronger than anything that’s passed so far,” Whitehouse told E&E Daily yesterday. “That was the purpose. The more people we get, the stronger and more accurate the language can become, the better off we’ll be and the stronger a signal it sends that there are some senators who might actually be willing to legislate in a bipartisan manner.”

McConnell said the energy and water spending measure has been an “excellent kickoff” to the fiscal 2017 appropriations season, citing the bipartisan deals on amendments. “We know continued cooperation will be essential to a successful appropriations process,” he added.

If approved this week, the energy and water spending bill would be the earliest appropriations measure passed by the Senate in about four decades.

Amendments added

The Senate voted, 55-38, yesterday to attach a “Buy America” amendment that would bar the administration from spending money on welded shipboard anchors and mooring chains unless they comply with federal acquisition rules, which require that such products be made in the United States.

Opponents worried that the provision could force the government to buy more costly domestic anchors and mooring chains.

The Senate also adopted eight amendments by voice vote:

  • An amendment offered by Delaware Democrats Tom Carper and Chris Coons to allow certain funds for shore protection to be prioritized for projects in areas that have suffered severe beach erosion.
  • An amendment offered by Arizona Republicans John McCain and Flake that would direct the Interior secretary to conduct a study and develop a plan for the removal of invasive salt cedar.
  • An amendment offered by McCain that would require the Western Area Power Administration to prepare a report on the use of certain provisions in power contracts.
  • An amendment by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) that would ensure that $543,000 be used to implement the requirements of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014.
  • An amendment offered by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) that would make $2 million available for Upper Missouri River Basin flood and drought monitoring.
  • An amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that sets a Nov. 30, 2017, deadline for a feasibility study related to the Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, Calif.
  • An amendment offered by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that would provide for a $6 million transfer of funding to the Weatherization Assistance Program from the Building Technologies Office.
  • An amendment offered by Alaska Republicans Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Hawaii Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono that would expand an Army Corps of Engineers program related to remote and subsistence harbors.