Senate bill ‘dead as a doornail’ for now over HFCs

Source: By Geof Koss and Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporters • Posted: Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Bipartisan frustration over the lack of a vote on curbing superpolluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) spilled onto the Senate floor last night, derailing — at least for now — the energy package that was widely expected to pass before the end of the week.

In a surprise move, senators voted 47-44 last night on a key procedural vote for the bipartisan energy package, falling short of the 60 votes needed for the bill to advance.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) switched his vote to no so he could push the chamber to revisit the matter.

But that’s unlikely until there’s an agreement to satisfy backers of legislation, S. 2754, to phase down HFCs.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a chief sponsor of the measure, made good on his pledge to block other amendments on the energy bill if he did not receive a vote on his proposal.

“I’m a good Methodist, but on occasion, if you turn the other cheek, you just get it in the neck,” Kennedy said afterward. “This isn’t about the bill anymore to me. This is about honor and respecting your colleagues.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told reporters after the vote that he was disappointed the broader energy bill was derailed.

“It was all over one thing,” he said of the HFCs fight. “We’re hoping they can work something out.”

Manchin said he had tried to broker an agreement to allow Kennedy and supporters of the HFCs bill to have a vote on their amendment, with Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) able to offer a proposal with state preemption language he favored.

“For whatever reason, John won’t put it on,” Manchin said of Barrasso.

The state preemption issue has dogged the energy debate for days. While supporters of the HFC bill discussed a compromise on the plan last week, that failed to satisfy the White House and Barrasso (E&E Daily, March 5).

In a statement, Barrasso said, “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. 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.”

Meanwhile, more companies have continued to reach out to Capitol Hill to express concerns over the HFC bill.

On Friday, Sabre Security Equipment Corp. and Safariland LLC, both of which use HFCs in defense spray products, wrote to the Senate to say the phaseout would make their sprays less effective. Both companies urged senators to also address state preemption in any legislation curbing use of HFCs.

‘Tomorrow’s a new day’

Frustration was evident from senators in both parties in last night’s vote, with 16 Republicans joining 28 Democrats in voting against ending debate.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said there was widespread discontent over the lack of amendment votes, which contributed to the outcome.

“I think it had to do with the fact that there were some individuals that thought they were going to have amendments they were going to get voted on,” Braun told E&E News after the vote. “In this case, I think it was a signal that we want to vote on more amendments.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who also voted against ending debate, said the frustration was twofold.

“One, we should be able to have amendments, which McConnell promised he was going to run this place in a different way and allow amendments, which the record clearly shows is absolutely false,” Heinrich said later.

“But two, we have a consensus on HFCs. On HFCs, we have enough votes to get it done, and yet we still can’t have a vote on it? That’s absurd,” he said.

Murkowski told reporters earlier yesterday she was afraid the HFCs fight would blow up the energy package, noting there was largely agreement on matters within her committee’s jurisdiction.

“We apparently seem to do pretty well, as long as we’re working within our lane,” she said as she entered the chamber.

After the votes, Murkowski said she was incredulous the Senate had blocked moving toward passage of the energy package.

“It is beyond frustrating to have our bill, which contains priorities from more than 70 senators, held up by an unrelated dispute that was never part of our discussions in the lead-up to this floor process,” she said.

“We will regroup and look for a path forward, but finding one will require members to be more reasonable and accommodating than they have been in the last week, and certainly more so than they were today,” she said.

The failed vote stalls a substitute amendment that included 16 amendments from members of both parties, while also blocking a vote expected today on a proposal to add building code standards to the underlying package.

In a statement, Manchin last night called it “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.” He vowed to continue to work “to get this bill across the finish line.”

After the vote, Kennedy said he didn’t know what would happen next on the energy bill.

“I know this much tonight, it’s dead as a doornail. It’s dead as fried chicken tonight. It’s dead as four o’clock tonight,” Kennedy said.

“They may figure out a way to breathe life back into it tomorrow, but as for tonight, you can stick a fork in it and bury it,” he said. “Tomorrow’s a new day.”