Senators expect freewheeling floor debate

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2016

Senators from both parties yesterday said they expect a wide-open floor debate as the chamber takes up a bipartisan energy package that backers are hoping President Obama will sign.

In announcing plans to bring the bill (S. 2012) to the floor next — probably next week — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday made clear he’s hoping to notch another bipartisan win to his list of accomplishments since taking control of the Senate last year.

“It’ll be open for amendment, and since it came out of committee 18-4, I hope we’ll be able to replicate what we did on frequent occasions last year with the rewrite of No Child Left Behind, the highway bill and other matters,” McConnell told reporters after the weekly caucus lunches.

Asked about the bill’s prospects, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said it was too early to tell how the floor debate might unfold.

“I can’t say,” he told reporters yesterday, adding, “It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and do something here.”

Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee signaled they’ll be looking to the July markup of the bill for inspiration for floor amendments.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, who as top Democrat on the panel helped Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) write the bill, said a proposal by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to create a federal efficiency resource standard for retail suppliers of electricity and natural gas is on her wish list.

Franken’s amendment failed to gain support of a majority of the committee last year, but Cantwell said the proposal and others are likely to resurface on the floor (Greenwire, July 28, 2015).

“There will be a lot of things like that,” she told E&E Daily yesterday.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), an Energy panel member, said his side is looking to proposals that didn’t make the cut in committee, as well.

“There may be some nuts-and-bolts amendments that we are looking at that we just didn’t get prepared in time for the committee activity, but they shouldn’t be controversial,” he told E&E Daily yesterday.

Some of the amendments are likely to address “some permitting issues that we are working through,” but Gardner reiterated that he didn’t expect the proposals to be controversial. Infrastructure permitting is one area that Republicans said earlier this week was likely to emerge during the floor debate (E&E Daily, Jan. 20).

Gardner said he had no plans to bring up the sage grouse amendment he has pushed in several floor debates over the past year — a concession to the fact that he wants to see the bill signed into law.

“It’s something that I have not looked at for this bill,” he said. “This is an 18-4 committee product. I’d like to see that same support coming out of the Senate.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who also sits on the Energy Committee, told E&E Daily that he and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) are working to get the entirety of their long-stalled energy efficiency bill included in the package. Business interests yesterday wrote Senate leaders in support of the underlying bill’s heavy emphasis on efficiency (Greenwire, Jan. 20).

The missing component is the “SAVE Act” — sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) — which Portman said was left out of the base bill because it was outside the panel’s jurisdiction.

Portman signaled that he’s likely to hold off on additional amendments in the interest of finally seeing his and Shaheen’s bill — which they’ve labored on for four years — signed into law.

“If we can get the entire bill in there as a title, then I think I would be respectful as possible of the process,” Portman said. “I have a lot of ideas, but this is a carefully vetted bill that is balanced.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said he’ll likely push for a vote on a bipartisan bill (S. 1407) he sponsored with Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), James Risch (R-Idaho) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) that aims to expedite renewable energy development on public lands.

Heinrich is also talking with other senators about additional amendments. “We’re sort of trying to figure that out right now,” he said.

Cantwell said that senators should be wary of pushing controversial amendments — some of which she conceded may be successful in clearing the 60-vote threshold.

“You keep it within the same parameters of ‘Let’s have a bill that actually gets signed into law,’ and people want to be reasonable about that; you put a bunch of stuff in there that you know the president’s going to veto, then it’s kind of like a moot exercise,” she told reporters.

Nonetheless, Cantwell said she expects a series of climate change amendments to surface.

“We had a lot of great votes last year on that in committee and on the floor: ‘Is it real?’ and ‘Should we set a carbon reduction savings goal and all that?'” she said. “We’ll probably have all those again, too.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) yesterday said that the Obama administration’s moratorium on new coal leasing on public lands is fair game for the floor (E&ENews PM, Jan. 20).

“There’s bipartisan support for the bill, and there’s bipartisan opposition to what the president has done with regard to coal,” he said.

Barrasso acknowledged the need for restraint if supporters want to see the energy bill signed into law, but signaled that other controversial issues are likely to surface on the floor, as well.

“The bill came out of committee 18-4,” he said. “I want to get a bill passed because we need to do an update on energy, in terms of reliable energy, infrastructure, supply of energy, exporting liquefied natural gas — all of those things are important,” he said.

However, he also called it “critically important to have reliable energy.”

“And there is a gap between the renewable energy that the president is in love with and reliable energy,” Barrasso said, “and there are times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, and we need to make sure that we have all of the sources of energy.”

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.