Senate takes up energy bill after 2-month delay

  • By MATTHEW DALY
  • Tuesday, April 19, 2016 9:35pm
  • News

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday revived a bill that would promote a variety of energy sources, from renewables such as solar and wind power to natural gas, hydropower and geothermal energy.

The bill also would speed federal approval of projects to export liquefied natural gas to Europe and Asia, update building codes to increase efficiency and strengthen electric-grid safety standards among dozens of provisions.

Senate passage is expected as soon as Wednesday. The measure must be reconciled with a House-passed bill that boosts oil and natural gas and speeds completion of environmental reviews for a proposed coal export terminal in Washington state. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the House measure.

If approved by both chambers and signed by Obama, the bill would be first far-reaching energy law in nearly a decade.

“Moving forward with this act will help America produce more energy and bring us one step closer to being an energy superpower,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “At the same time, it will help Americans save more money and save energy with all of the energy-policy provisions.”

The bipartisan bill is widely popular, but was delayed in early February amid a partisan dispute over sending hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency aid to Flint, Michigan, to fix and replace the city’s lead-contaminated pipes.

Michigan’s Democratic senators dropped the Flint provision last week after a months-long standoff with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters said they would seek another way to get the Flint aid package through the Senate.

Congress last approved broad energy measures in 2005 and 2007, during the George W. Bush administration. The two laws aimed to boost U.S. energy independence by cutting reliance on imported oil, boosting fuel economy standards for cars and imposing a mandate for ethanol in gasoline.

Since then, the U.S. energy landscape has changed dramatically, as improved drilling techniques, including hydraulic fracturing, have sparked a years-long boom that has pushed the United States to become the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals into underground rock formations, allowing oil and gas to flow.

The Senate bill includes a long-delayed energy efficiency measure that includes incentives to cut energy use in commercial buildings, manufacturing plants and homes. The measure, co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also requires federal agencies to develop best practices to increase energy efficiency in federal buildings.

The efficiency measure has passed the Senate before but has not been approved in the House.

Beside the Flint provision, Murkowski and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., also worked to remove a series of procedural obstacles that delayed the overall bill, including an amendment by Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter to expand revenue sharing for states where offshore drilling occurs.

Cassidy and Vitter, both Republicans, want Gulf Coast states to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue. They also would expand revenue sharing to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, if drilling begins in those states. The Obama administration has blocked drilling off the Atlantic coast.

The Louisiana senators agreed to drop their amendment after Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., objected. Nelson said he feared the measure could increase pressure to allow drilling off the Florida coast.

“I’ve spent four decades fighting to protect Florida’s coast from the threat of offshore drilling and I’ve made it clear to my colleagues in the Senate that I’m certainly not going to stop now,” Nelson said.

Cassidy said Senate leaders have assured him that a revenue-sharing proposal will be voted on this year. “Revenue sharing is not only about fairness, it is about Louisiana’s survival and American energy security,” he said.

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