Senate votes to kick off conference talks

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2016

After weeks of back and forth between the two parties, the Senate this afternoon voted overwhelmingly to launch the first formal energy reform conference in more than a decade.

Senators first voted 84-3 on a procedural motion to end debate on a motion to launch negotiations with the House. The motion then passed by voice vote.

Voting followed weeks of discussions between Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

Talks also included House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), as well as House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and ranking member Raül Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Democrats have been wary of starting formal talks to reconcile the Senate bill, S. 2012, with the House’s energy package, which representatives amended in May to include measures the White House had threatened to veto.

Today’s breakthrough came after Murkowski and Cantwell reached an agreement to exclude controversial provisions from the final bill.

Pressed on the issue, Murkowski earlier today referenced last month’s joint statement by Upton and Bishop, in which the pair affirmed their support for producing a final energy bill that President Obama would sign (E&ENews PM, June 20).

“I think all you need to do is go back to the statement that was made by our House colleagues a couple weeks ago when they said it’s their intention, as it is mine, to make sure that we have an energy conference product that will be signed into law,” Murkowski told reporters. “Doesn’t make sense to throw down matters that have a veto threat attached to them.”

Cantwell on the floor this afternoon said Upton and Bishop’s statement “made it helpful for us to move forward”

“They basically said they didn’t want to waste time on things that were going to be vetoed,” she said, urging her colleagues to support moving to conference.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) this afternoon said Murkowski had “given her word to side” with Cantwell on the final conference report.

Murkowski in floor remarks hailed the “strong working relationship” between herself and Cantwell, who conducted extensive outreach to stakeholders in assembling their energy package. She noted the bill contains provisions from 80 senators.

Murkowski said the conference would not “unilaterally disarm” itself on any issues but reiterated her goal of producing a bill that would become law.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce today notified senators it would “key vote” the move to go to conference, which it supports.

Environmentalists have resisted a formal conference, citing fears over the House’s package. In a statement, Natural Resources Defense Council Associate Director of Government Affairs Marc Boom lauded Cantwell for “sidelining the most egregious House provisions.”

He said, “Now it’s up to members of the conference committee to deliver a bill that helps us build a clean energy economy. A key to that is fixing provisions undermining environmental protections, such as a Senate measure encouraging the burning of trees to make electricity. That’s unacceptable and flies in the face of the science. Forests aren’t fuels.”