Senate votes to convene first energy bill conference committee since 2007
- The U.S. Senate has voted to take work on broad energy legislation into a conference committee with House lawmakers for the first time since 2007, with the bill's chief sponsor Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) saying she is committed to generating a bill which President Obama will sign.
- The Tuesday afternoon vote came after Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the ranking member on the Senate Energy Committee, secured a commitment from Republicans not to push for the inclusion of controversial items that could trigger a veto from President Obama. Democrats have agreed to not halt the process if there is disagreement on some items.
- The Senate appointed seven lawmakers to the committee, four Republicans and three who are Democrats or caucus with them. Among the conferees is presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Murkowski, chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the Senate vote on a conference committee a "critical milestone" as Congress tries to pass the first broad energy legislation in almost a decade.
"While we have differences to resolve, I am confident we are up to the task," Murkowski said in a statement. "Our bicameral negotiations will begin immediately so that a good final bill can be signed into law this year.”
Republican conferees from the Senate include: Sens. Murkowski, John Barasso (WY), Jim Risch (ID), and John Cornyn (TX). From the Democrats: Sens. Cantwell, Ron Wyden (OR), and Sanders.
Little time remains, as the August recess begins at the end of the week. The seven-week break, longer than the typical five-week recess, would give staffers a chance to work out any initial issues that emerge in the conference.
The House voted in late May to enter joint negotiations to reconcile differences between competing proposals. The House approved its energy package, H.R. 8, in a 241-178 vote largely along party lines. Significant differences remain with S. 2012, the Senate's Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, which passed in April in an 85-12 vote.
The Senate's infrastructure title holds provisions to modernize the grid, improve cybersecurity, maintain the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and grow a stronger energy sector workforce. Both bills include provisions to streamline natural gas exports, though under different review timeframes.
At a forum last month in Washington, Cantwell said a “very progressive, very active energy efficiency title" would be a priority for Senate lawmakers in the conference committee.
S. 2012 included robust efficiency provisions, including the SAVE Act, which would allow federal mortgage backers to consider potential efficiency upgrades when assessing a homeowner's ability to make payments.
“We need a signal from the House that they understand that the heart and core of our energy efficiency provisions need to be the cornerstone of any bill that goes to the president’s desk,” Cantwell said, according to Morning Consult.
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