Congress fails to pass en­ergy bill

Murkowski: House stonewalled

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Con­tin­u­ing a decade of fu­til­ity on the is­sue, House and Se­nate ne­go­tia­tors fell short yet again last week in craft­ing a com­pre­hen­sive en­ergy bill, and punted the is­sue to the next Congress and the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Repub­li­can lead­ers in the Se­nate pinned the blame squarely on the House GOP, which ap­pears to be bank­ing on the fact it can pass more com­pre­hen­sive en­ergy leg­is­la­tion — one that ad­dresses en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and some of Pres­i­dent Obama’s more con­tro­ver­sial steps to fight cli­mate change — once Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump is in the White House.

“The con­fer­ees were not able to come to agree­ment on var­i­ous out­stand­ing is­sues in time for the House to con­sider a con­fer­ence re­port,” Doug An­dres, spokesman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

But Se­nate lead­ers scoffed at that ex­pla­na­tion and be­moaned the fact that Congress has failed to pass a broad en­ergy bill in nearly 10 years. The last such leg­is­la­tion was signed into law in 2007 by then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

The most re­cent ef­fort at­tracted bi­par­ti­san sup­port in the Se­nate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Repub­li­can and chair of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on En­ergy and Nat­u­ral Re­sources, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, Democrats’ rank­ing mem­ber on the panel, worked on the leg­is­la­tion for nearly two years, and it passed the Se­nate in April, gar­ner­ing more than 80 votes.

The bill in­cluded pro­vi­sions to mod­ern­ize the na­tion’s elec­tric grid, speed up ap­proval for nat­u­ral gas ex­ports, pro­mote the de­vel­op­ment of more hydropower and beef up cy­ber­se­cu­rity at nu­clear power fa­cil­i­ties — among other steps. The House passed its own en­ergy bill later in the spring, and the two cham­bers in July be­gan work­ing to hash out dif­fer­ences.

The House ver­sion, how­ever, con­tained pro­vi­sions that the White House had vowed to veto, in­clud­ing weak­en­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions on en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, the per­mit­ting of power trans­porta­tion projects and oth­ers. The two ver­sions also dif­fered on the specifics of liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas ex­ports and how long gov­ern­ment re­views of ex­port fa­cil­i­ties should take.

Rec­on­cil­ing the two seemed promis­ing in July, when House and Se­nate ne­go­tia­tors first be­gan their work. In­stead, law­mak­ers now will once again have to go back to the draw­ing board in July.

While Ms. Murkowski said the Se­nate’s bi­par­ti­san bill was en­cour­ag­ing, she said their work ul­ti­mately was fu­tile be­cause of House in­ac­tion, and she sug­gested that House lead­ers had in­ten­tion­ally given up on try­ing to bridge dif­fer­ences.

“You’ve got to get it over the fin­ish line,” she said in a Se­nate floor speech last week. “Af­ter two years of work and be­ing this close to the fin­ish line, we’re be­ing de­nied that op­por­tu­nity to share that suc­cess be­cause of a lack of ac­tion over in the other cham­ber. … They stopped ne­go­ti­at­ing in good faith. They stopped work­ing to reach agree­ment.”

With Repub­li­cans in con­trol of the House and Se­nate, and with Mr. Trump set to be­come pres­i­dent Jan. 20, it’s likely the GOP could muscle through a much more am­bi­tious en­ergy pack­age next year, one that could speed up fos­sil fuel ex­plo­ration, cut En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency reg­u­la­tions, roll back cli­mate change pro­grams and take other steps Democrats are sure to op­pose.

While such a bill could very well pass and be signed into law, it would be a far cry from the bi­par­ti­san ef­fort the Se­nate put forth in the spring, lead­ing some en­ergy an­a­lysts to blast Congress for be­ing so close to a land­mark com­pro­mise and fall­ing short at the eleventh hour.

“It’s just very frus­trat­ing to see Congress again fail to act on en­ergy ef­fi­ciency poli­cies that have so much bi­par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and pub­lic sup­port, and that would help so many peo­ple and busi­nesses save money on their en­ergy bills,” said Ka­teri Cal­la­han, pres­i­dent of the Al­liance to Save En­ergy, a lead­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency coali­tion. “Amer­i­cans should be out­raged that Congress has let them down yet again by fail­ing to pass these commonsense ef­fi­ciency poli­cies, which have been stalled in Congress for a half-decade. The bat­tle may be done for the year, but we will be back in the fight next year.”

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