Senate Tuesday group has bipartisan energy legislation in its sights

Source: Jean Chemnick • E&E • Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Senate supporters of efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions hope to cobble together a package this year that would boost energy efficiency and alternative energy — and can pass the Senate.

The group, headed by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), revived their Tuesday meetings late last year, and approximately 20 Democrats attend regularly.

Kerry said yesterday he hoped some Republicans would eventually become part of the klatch.

“I would hope we could make it bipartisan,” he said.

The group originated in the last Congress to support efforts to pass comprehensive climate change legislation, but its leaders have lowered their sights considerably since then.

Kerry said the new goal is to put together a package of relatively noncontroversial bills aimed at boosting efficiency and alternative energy. Several such measures have already passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chaired by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) on a bipartisan basis, and some of them may be on the menu, Kerry said.

“Senator Bingaman has some things they’re working on in the Energy committee, and we’re working on trying to conglomeratize that and see what we can pull together that has broader census,” he said.

Kerry conceded that it would be difficult to pass almost anything in an election year, “but we’re going to do stuff that’s not controversial.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who with Kerry introduced comprehensive climate change legislation in the last Congress, said supporters of action on global warming remain disappointed that it failed.

“But if we get some energy independence, alternative energy, energy efficiency legislation adopted, I think we will thereby also diminish carbon pollution, which I think it’s all about,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who worked with Kerry and Lieberman on the climate bill but was not ultimately a co-sponsor, said that he saw opportunities for bipartisan collaboration, especially on efficiency measures.

“I think there’s a market now for energy efficiency and a market for domestic energy production,” he said

In particular, Graham singled out his Home Star bill, which would have provided incentives for residential efficiency retrofits that he sponsored last Congress with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

“I think there would be bipartisan support for that,” Graham added.

But it is unclear whether Home Star would be a candidate for any proposed package this year. The Warner-Graham bill has not been reintroduced, and while a version passed the House in 2010, when the Democrats were in the majority, the Senate version was never approved by the Finance Committee.

The bills the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved this Congress with bipartisan support include an industrial energy efficiency bill co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a measure to establish a new carbon capture and sequestration program at the Energy Department and bills to promote solar energy and geothermal.

Aside from the goal of producing legislation, the Tuesday group also provides an opportunity for its members to talk about climate and energy issues. Energy Secretary Steven Chu addressed the senators in November.

Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress Action Fund said that any of the bills approved by the energy committee would have a good chance of making it to the floor of the Senate.

But while Kerry and his colleagues may succeed in crafting a bill that would garner broad bipartisan support, Senate Republicans might move to attach amendments to it that would roll back U.S. EPA pollution restrictions, approve the Keystone XL pipeline or open new areas along the West Coast or in Alaska to petroleum production, Weiss said. Similar attempts are likely in the Republican-controlled House.

“The challenge would be to keep poison-pill amendments off of the bill without getting it pulled,” he said