Energy efficiency bill bogs down in Senate

A dispute over the Affordable Care Act and other issues on Wednesday threatened to derail a popular, bipartisan power efficiency bill in the Senate, jeopardizing the chamber’s first big attempt to tackle energy policy in six years.

Senate leaders were still working on a deal to break the logjam by granting Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a vote on his unrelated proposal to force lawmakers and congressional aides to buy insurance on public exchanges without the benefit of offsetting federal contributions.

But in return, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he wants Republicans to agree to pare a long wish list of other amendments on unrelated, non-germane issues, as well as hot-button energy topics, such as environmental regulations and the Keystone XL pipeline. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, no deal was in sight.

“The latest we got from our floor staff is that the Republicans on this energy bill want five non-germane amendments and whatever other amendments are filed dealing with energy, which (means) we’re not going to finish the legislation,” Reid said. “And that’s an understatement.”

The underlying energy efficiency bill, sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would force federal agencies to adopt energy savings techniques for computers, while encouraging more energy-efficient building codes and helping manufactures pare their power use. It has been described as a voluntary, low-cost measure with a broad coalition of support both on Capitol Hill and outside the Beltway.

But as the first significant energy bill to garner time on the Senate floor since late 2007, the measure is attracting an array of pent-up amendments. In the six years since the last Senate debate on these issues, the United States’ energy outlook has been upended, as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling allow companies to harvest previously unrecoverable oil and gas around the country.

Magnetic appeal: Efficiency bill draws oil industry wish list

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, pleaded with her colleagues to keep the bill afloat.

“This is good stuff. Let’s make it happen,” she said. “Let’s not sacrifice a good, strong bill.”

Murkowski cast the quagmire on the efficiency bill as a larger test of the Congress’ ability to legislate.

“How we move forward really is indicative of whether or not this is a body that’s going to start working,” she said. “We are just bogged down in our own inertia here and can’t figure out how we even get to start. That’s a pretty poor reflection on us.”

“If we can’t finish legislation like an energy efficiency bill, . . . what are we going to be able to do on the really big stuff?” Murkowski asked.

Some of the dozens of proposed amendments would put senators in a tough political position, by forcing them to weigh in formally on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the federal renewable fuel mandate, environmental regulations and climate change.

Battleground: Senate energy efficiency debate becomes arena to fight out other issues

For instance, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., have a proposal that would express the sense of Congress that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest and should  win government approval. A similar non-binding provision passed the Senate with 62 votes earlier this year.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., exhorted Senate leaders to allow votes on the full range of amendments, even though some of them could turn into campaign fodder for political opponents.

“We know some of them will wind up in ads against us when we run,” he acknowledged on the Senate floor. “But that’s always been the case. We need to do lots of things on energy for this country.”