Proponents of an energy-efficiency bill may want to thank Russia for their measure finally getting its long-awaited day in the Senate.
Because of the impromptu diplomatic talks triggered by Russia that are under way in hopes of resolving the Syrian conflict, the Senate has put on the back burner a resolution to authorize military action against the Middle Eastern country. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Wednesday afternoon moved to a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill that the Senate had planned to debate this week before the Syrian debate escalated.
"I think it's appropriate that rather than sit here and tread water and do nothing, we should move forward on this legislation," Reid said on the Senate floor in reference to the bill sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D"‘N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
That wasn't exactly a rousing introduction to this energy debate, but the measure's authors and the leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee are nonetheless seizing the moment.
"It's essentially the first stand-alone energy bill to be debated on the floor of the Senate since 2007," said Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Comparing today's energy-efficiency measure to the 2007 mammoth of a bill is like apples to oranges (or grapes to watermelons). The energy bill the Senate is debating now is 30 pages long, and has fully offset costs and just one mandatory measure: to make the federal government's use of energy more efficient. The bill also includes a host of voluntary measures, such as strengthening national building codes and directing the Energy Department to encourage development of energy-efficiency technology.
In contrast, the 2007 bill was 310 pages long, cost the government millions of dollars, and significantly strengthened both the renewable-fuel standard for gasoline and fuel-economy standards for vehicles.
Today, Republicans are almost universally opposed to federal mandates of all kinds, and Democrats aren't going to bat for them like they used to.
"Nobody is going to be able to say this is part of a dumb federal mandate or some kind of run-from-Washington, one-size-fits-all approach," Wyden said.
A few minutes later, Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, took to the floor to say: "I would not be supporting any provision if it required mandatory adoption of those [efficiency] codes. But this bill is voluntary."
The bill has support from a wide range of groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Its detractors are few, but among them is the free-market Heritage Foundation, which claims the bill encourages wasteful programs and incentives.
The likelihood of this measure's passage hinges much less on its substance — which most senators support — and more on other circumstances, namely what controversial amendments may be offered and whether the Senate refocuses its attention on Syria.
It was unclear by press time Wednesday evening which contentious amendments, including one approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline and another stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, might get votes. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., objected to allowing more amendments Wednesday until a deal was worked out on one he offered related to Obamacare.