Senate package ‘could be next’ on floor — Murkowski

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, January 25, 2016

The Senate may begin debating bipartisan energy legislation as early as this week, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The chamber is slated to vote  on a motion to proceed to a House-passed bill that would impose new screening requirements on Iraqi and Syrian refugees. The legislation — which stems from mounting fears over domestic attacks from the Islamic State group — easily passed the House in November, but it’s unclear whether supporters can muster 60 votes to clear the procedural hurdle in the Senate.

Should the measure fall short, Murkowski said that the upper chamber may then turn to her committee’s energy package (S. 2012), which is focused on boosting renewables, efficiency and natural gas exports and modernizing energy infrastructure.

“I have heard that we could be next up,” Murkowski said after a committee hearing on energy commodity markets. “We are in the queue.”

Pressed further on timing, Murkowski responded, “I think it’s fair to say that we are clearly in the mix of things that are on the front burner.”

Passing the Senate’s bill — which cleared the Energy panel in July on a bipartisan vote — would allow the upper and lower chambers to go to conference, given that the House passed companion legislation (H.R. 8) last month (Greenwire, Dec. 3, 2015).

Like the Senate bill, that measure was conceived as bipartisan and excludes more contentious policy changes. But Democrats largely opposed the bill in committee and on the floor, complaining they were left out of key decisions. The White House eventually threatened to veto the measure.

Murkowski said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “has indicated it is his desire to have an open amendment process, but open doesn’t mean without limitation.”

“So I would think that we would want to have a process that will allow us to move efficiently through a bill,” she said, referencing last January’s freewheeling debate on legislation (H.R. 1) approving the Keystone XL pipeline, during which dozens of amendments received votes over the course of two weeks before passage.

“I’d like to think we could do the same with this,” Murkowski said.

Should the Senate pass the committee’s energy bill, it would come on the heels of last year’s omnibus/tax extenders agreement, which both lifted the crude oil export ban and extended key wind and solar tax credits for five years.

It would also move the Republican-led Congress toward a rare election-year victory on energy.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), at a bicameral retreat last week in Baltimore, did not mention specific legislation but told reporters that energy issues would be part of a GOP push on jobs and economic growth that will be a pillar of the party’s agenda the coming year.

“How do we maximize our energy potential?” Ryan asked as the three-day retreat wrapped up. He stressed that any legislative ideas would be driven by work at the committee levels, not decisions handed down by leaders.

Ryan also said the party’s proposed agenda would aim to give voters a clear choice in this fall’s elections and then would be translated into legislation in 2017.

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.