Senators Reach Deal to Act on Comprehensive Energy Bill

Source: By CORAL DAVENPORT, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2016

\WASHINGTON — Senators on Wednesday reached a deal to act on a comprehensive energy bill as soon as this week, breaking a three-month partisan standoff over the tainted water scandal in Flint, Mich.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska and chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, and Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the panel’s ranking Democrat, has broad bipartisan support and is expected to easily pass the Senate.

It represents the first major energy bill to come to the Senate floor since the Bush administration. A similar measure has passed in the House, and President Obama has signaled his support for it. The bill is designed to address major changes in the ways that power is produced in the United States by updating the nation’s power grid and oil and gas transportation systems.

But progress on the measure has been stalled since January, when Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, sought to offer an amendment that would have provided $600 million in aid to the victims of the Flint water crisis. Republicans opposed her, a position that Democrats said embodied a passion for smaller government gone bad.

Ms. Stabenow, backed by Senate Democratic leaders, put a procedural hold on the bill, blocking its progress to the Senate floor. But on Wednesday, she and a handful of other senators said they had lifted their holds.

Ms. Stabenow insisted that she would continue to push for a vote on the Flint aid. “This is about something as basic as making sure families have clean water to drink and children with lead poisoning get the help they need,” she said in a statement.

The progress on the bill provided Senate leaders from both parties a rare moment of unity.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday night, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, said “I think we’re on the cusp here of something very important and very much worth doing for the American people.”

To that, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic Senate leader, added:“We’re done with this. We’re going to finish this bill.”

Despite those proclamations, the lawmakers have not set a date for a final vote on the measure. Senate aides said it could come as soon as this week.

Final passage of the bill would represent a significant step forward for the nation’s energy policy. Since passage of the last major energy law, in 2007, the United States has gone from fearing oil and gas shortages to becoming the world’s leading producer of both fuels.

The use of wind and solar power is rapidly accelerating as those sources become cheaper than fossil fuels in some parts of the country. And Mr. Obama’s clean-air regulations are reshaping the nation’s power systems, as electric utilities shutter coal-fired power plants and replace them with alternative sources.

But the nation’s energy infrastructure has not kept pace with those changes, and the Senate bill is designed to take the first major steps in reshaping that infrastructure.