Efficiency bill becomes magnet for oil industry wish list

A popular proposal to boost the energy efficiency of federal buildings has become a magnet for an oil industry wish list, as senators on Thursday sought to use the measure to advance other initiatives limiting environmental regulations and urging approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, the bipartisan energy efficiency bill had become mired in a completely unrelated dispute over whether the Senate will vote on Louisiana Republican David Vitter’s legislation to force lawmakers and their aides to buy insurance from Obamacare health exchanges.

It was unclear whether Senate leaders could reach an agreement with Vitter to break the efficiency bill free.

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

But even if efficiency bill supporters climb that health care hurdle, others await, in the form of more than three dozen amendments that have already been filed, including controversial proposals supported by the oil industry. The lineup includes:

  • An amendment offered by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., that would waive allow governors to opt out of the eight-year-old renewable fuel standard that forces refiners to blend increasing amounts of biofuels into h elation’s fuel supply.
  • A proposal by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to repeal some tax breaks for biodiesel and alternative fuel mixtures.
  • An amendment by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would require the government to annually study the cost small businesses bear in complying with federal regulations.
  • A proposal by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to bar the government from using a new “social cost of carbon” to analyze potential federal regulations until the calculation is subjected to a formal, public rule making process.
  • A Barrasso amendment to bar the federal government from issuing any regulations governing carbon pollution from power utilities unless explicitly authorized by Congress.

Other proposals include Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow’s amendment to revamp federal advanced vehicle technology programs and a plan by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., to allow renewable energy projects to qualify for master limited partnerships, a financing structure now largely limited to depletable natural resources.

The most controversial initiative may be an amendment sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to express the sense of Congress that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest and should be win government approval. A similar non-binding provision passed the Senate with 62 votes earlier this year.

Senate supporters of the efficiency bill on Thursday were pleading with their colleagues not to let other issues bog down a popular, bipartisan measure that also happens to be the first energy legislation debated by the chamber in years. The measure 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.

Most of the attention so far has been aimed at Vitter, who is insisting that his health care proposal get a vote, either as an amendment to the efficiency bill or a stand-alone measure. On Thursday, Vitter stressed that he supported much of the underlying efficiency legislation but, he said, Congress needs to act urgently on the exchanges ahead of an October deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blasted Republicans for the holdup.

“We’re diverted totally from what this bill is about,” he said on the Senate floor. “Why? Because the anarchists have taken over.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., used a speech on the Senate floor to make an impassioned plea to Vitter. Don’t “hold this bipartisan energy bill hostage,” Wyden implored.

Wyden said the bill is in a “procedural morass” that threatens to jeopardize potential financial savings, pollution reductions and other benefits.

“People at home are tired of this food fight in Washington,” Wyden said. “They’re tired of the bickering and the pettiness.”