More Than Just Keystone Died in the Senate Wednesday

Murkowski: The new Alaska maverick.
National Journal
Jason Plautz
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Jason Plautz
May 8, 2014, 1 a.m.

The col­lapse of a bi­par­tis­an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill on the floor has im­periled the Sen­ate’s vote on the Key­stone XL pipeline, but it’s also got mem­bers sweat­ing that their chance to move any oth­er en­ergy meas­ures has all but slipped away.

“We have things that need to be re­solved and ad­vanced in the en­ergy sec­tor,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, rank­ing mem­ber on the En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee. “If we can’t get an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill through the floor, what does that say about our abil­ity as a Sen­ate to act?”

Re­pub­lic­ans have said that the ef­fi­ciency bill from Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hamp­shire and Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Rob Port­man of Ohio was their best — and pos­sibly only — chance to de­bate en­ergy is­sues in depth on the floor. They offered up a slew of amend­ments and tried to move five, in­clud­ing ones block­ing a car­bon tax, air pol­lu­tion rules on ozone, and green­house-gas rules for power plants.

Those were polit­ic­ally-charged bills, to say noth­ing of the Key­stone XL pipeline vote that was hitched to the bill as a stand-alone meas­ure.

But Murkowski said she doubts that even some smal­ler meas­ures from her com­mit­tee could move giv­en the “stun­ning” polit­ic­al back­lash on the en­ergy bill, which was aimed at in­creas­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency in com­mer­cial and res­id­en­tial prop­er­ties and fed­er­ally owned build­ings. Among her pri­or­it­ies is a bi­par­tis­an nuc­le­ar-waste dis­pos­al bill she in­tro­duced with Cali­for­nia Demo­crat Di­anne Fein­stein and policy pro­pos­als re­lated to the nex­us between en­ergy and wa­ter, which she out­lined in a white pa­per this week.

Re­forms to the na­tion’s en­ergy-ex­port policy could also fall vic­tim to the par­tis­an back­lash, she said.

After say­ing that Re­pub­lic­ans had backed out of a deal to vote on Shaheen-Port­man and the Key­stone pipeline, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id on Wed­nes­day filled the amend­ment tree on the bill and filed clo­ture, with a vote ex­pec­ted Monday.

Sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans said their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the pro­cess would cause them to yank their votes for the en­ergy bill. Sen. Johnny Isak­son of Geor­gia, one of 24 Re­pub­lic­ans who voted to open de­bate on the bill Tues­day, said simply that he was “not open to rat­i­fy­ing Harry Re­id’s op­er­a­tion of the Sen­ate, which is to fill the tree and not al­low any amend­ments.”

And North Dakota Re­pub­lic­an John Ho­even, one of the spon­sors on the Key­stone bill, said he didn’t think he would help Demo­crats reach 60 votes on en­ergy ef­fi­ciency while Re­id blocked their path to the pipeline bill.

Al­though spon­sors say they’re keep­ing their op­tions open and hope to strike a deal that will keep the bill alive, its pre­sumed death is an­oth­er in a line of dif­fi­culties for the Sen­ate (in­clud­ing the de­feat of an earli­er ver­sion of Shaheen-Port­man, which fell in Septem­ber amid a dis­pute over a health care amend­ment from GOP Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter of Louisi­ana).

Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship had said that their goal in in­sist­ing on five amend­ments was to get a chance to talk about en­ergy is­sues on the floor and se­cure votes on those is­sues for the first time since 2007, al­though the is­sues have seen floor time on oth­er meas­ures like the budget. But Sen. John Bar­rasso, R-Wyo., said that the Right would con­tin­ue to push for the de­bate they want on the bill they think makes the best vehicle.

“If we’re go­ing to talk about en­ergy, we ought to talk about en­ergy,” Bar­rasso said.

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