Senate energy package 2.0 leapfrogs to floor

Source: Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2017

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took procedural moves last night to bring an updated version of last year’s bipartisan energy bill to the Senate floor, bypassing regular order amid an unusually partisan environment charged by the health care debate.

McConnell moved last night to put the revised energy bill (S. 1460) on the Senate calendar, skipping the committee process entirely.

Text of the bill was unavailable last night but Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) earlier this month said the revised bill would largely reflect the core areas addressed in the last Congress, including efficiency, infrastructure, research and natural resources issues (E&E Daily, June 21).

That bill died in December, after months of formal conference talks with the House ended when conferees in that chamber said they had run out of time. Murkowski and Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) slammed their House counterparts for the retreat, which was widely blamed on the election of Donald Trump as president.

Murkowski this month said revisions in the bill, including to the efficiency title, reflect the discussions with House conferees. An aide last night said the bill would address natural gas exports, electric reliability, cybersecurity, Energy Department technology transfers and lab reforms, hydropower licensing, nuclear research, sportsmen’s provisions, critical minerals, Indian energy and national parks maintenance.

The exact timing of a floor debate is unclear, but McConnell may be looking to chalk up a legislative win after the weeklong July 4 recess that starts Friday. That’s the week Republicans are hoping to vote on legislation repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, and the energy bill could occupy the floor while health care talks continue.

McConnell’s surprise move, which comes during a White House themed “Energy Week” that has largely been overshadowed by the health care fight, coincides with the uncertainty surrounding the Obamacare repeal.

Murkowski has been noncommittal as to whether she’ll support the health bill but has pointedly questioned its effect on her state, where the remote and isolated geography compound health care costs. She has refrained from stating outright opposition, like Maine’s Susan Collins has already done, but Murkowski is considered in the same camp as her fellow moderate on the bill as currently written.

The timing of a floor debate on the energy bill may be awkward for Democrats, who are under pressure from a riled-up base to thwart the GOP majority at every opportunity. The bill passed the Senate by an 85-12 margin in April 2016.