Washington Digest: Senate tackles details, amendments of broad energy bill

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate took up a broad, bipartisan energy bill last week and began voting on what is expected to be scores of amendments to update provisions in place since 2007.

“This is the first major energy bill the Senate has debated in more than eight years,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the measure’s lead sponsor.

After the committee found more common ground than some of its members expected, Murkowski said, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 was organized into five main parts: efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability and conservation.

“It is a good bill, a timely bill, a bipartisan bill, and it deserves overwhelming support,” she said.

Murkowski pointed to specific provisions to promote the use of hydropower, a key issue for Western states, expedite permitting of natural gas pipelines, create a pilot program for oil and gas permitting, boost energy efficiency of schools and improve cybersecurity.

With the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, also on board, the bill immediately drew praise from leaders of both parties.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky noted that the last time such a broad energy bill was signed into law was in 2007.

“It may as well have been a lifetime ago, as far as America’s energy situation is concerned,” McConnell said, pointing to current challenges the bill must address such as aging infrastructure, bureaucratic hurdles and outdated policies.

“It will help Americans produce more energy. It will help Americans pay less for energy. It will help Americans save energy.”

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada welcomed the bill’s approach on making clean energy sustainable for future generations, describing those provisions as a priority for his party.

Reid also singled out the bill’s provisions to re-authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, blaming Republicans for allowing it to expire, and on energy efficiency legislation that he said Republicans blocked several years ago.

“As with all legislation, there is no question that the energy bill could be improved,” he said. “Members of my caucus welcome the opportunity to strengthen this bill.”

By its second day on the Senate floor, the bill had generated more than 85 amendments with more expected in the coming days, Murkowski said.

Not all will get a vote, she said.

Initial amendments were approved with little debate.

By a vote of 87 to 4, senators approved an amendment by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to increase nuclear research at national labs through new partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Reid and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the amendment.

An amendment by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., was approved by a 62-29 vote to require an annual Government Accountability Office report for three years on the impact of crude oil exports on U.S. consumers, independent refineries, shipbuilders and energy production. Markey opposed the lifting of the U.S. ban on oil exports.

Reid supported the amendment; Heller opposed it.

By a vote of 55 to 37, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, won approval of his amendment to boost funding by $147 million for research at the U.S. Department of Energy, citing work in the areas of climate change, electricity rates and cyber-attacks.

Reid supported the amendment while Heller opposed it.

Contact Jim Myers at jmyers@reviewjournal.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @myers_dc.

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