Energy Bill in U.S. Congress Off the Rails
On September 9, 2015, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski,a Republican, achieved something in Washington, D.C., that’s now as rare as Redskins Super Bowl victory: the introduction of legislation on a major national issue that achieved genuine bipartisan support.
It was called the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015. After several months of debate, the bill passed the Senate in April of 2016, and went to the House of Representatives. Finally, it seemed as if the Congress was actually going to prove it could still do something besides argue and run for reelection.
One month later, the bill passed the House of Representatives with some changes, and went back to the Senate so those changes could be approved.
After that? Nothing.
And the Redskins aren’t looking that great this season, either.
The History of Something That Almost Worked
The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 would have (and still could be) the first piece of comprehensive energy legislation since 2007. Its primary focus is on modernizing energy infrastructure and improving energy efficiency.
The Senate bill includes provisions to, among other things, streamline the permitting process for oil and gas pipelines; create or improve several programs designed to increase energy efficiency in buildings; significantly upgrade the nation’s electrical grid; subsidize hydropower; expedite liquid natural gas exports; add fuel economy incentives for natural gas vehicles; and reauthorize a program aimed at reducing diesel pollution.
Then the debates began. Some Republicans grumbled over the absence of any efforts to increase fossil fuel production, while Democrats wanted to see more references to climate change. Yet somehow the bill survived and passed by a vote of 85-12. Among those in favor were Democrats Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer, as well as Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell. Among the No votes—Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Bernie Sanders abstained.
The final version included 65 amendments, among them measures to create jobs to support renewable energy projects.
Of course, nothing that happens in Congress receives 100-percent approval, and objections to the bill were voiced by special interest groups on both sides of the political spectrum. The Sierra Club expressed concern over increased investment in methane hydrates and nuclear energy, and issued a statement opposing the bill because of “serious policy flaws.” Other environmental organizations followed suit.
The conservative lobby group Heritage Action also urged rejection, over proposed home energy efficiency provisions that would provide credits against home loans.
Such concerns were not enough to derail months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and compromises.
But three months after the bill was approved by the House and returned to the Senate for debate/approval of the last round of changes, it has stalled. Other business and the upcoming election are likely factors, as well as issues with the legislation already expressed by President Obama.
According to a White House statement, “The administration has concerns with other parts of the legislation including provisions that would: generate budgetary scoring issues associated with energy savings contracts, which represent an important tool in advancing Federal sustainability; (and) repeal existing Department of Energy programs that aim to improve efficiency at manufacturing facilities.”
What happens next is anyone’s guess. But GovTrack.us., a website that tracks the progress of federal legislation, has given the bill a 37-percent chance of being enacted. That may not sound encouraging, but only about 21 percent of bills that made it past committee from 2013 to 2015 have gone the distance.