Senate’s Energy-Efficiency Bill Bogged Down in Unrelated Amendments

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., left, looks on as Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday June 18, 2008, to discuss Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita recovery money. 
National Journal
Alex Brown
Sept. 15, 2013, 8:38 a.m.

Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La., has ef­fect­ively taken host­age the Sen­ate’s en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill, stalling its pro­gress as he in­sists on a vote on his amend­ment to weak­en the Af­ford­able Care Act. But his isn’t the only amend­ment ty­ing po­lar­iz­ing is­sues to the oth­er­wise un­con­tro­ver­sial bill.

One such pro­pos­al, led by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and John Ho­even, R-N.D., would pres­sure Obama to ap­prove the Key­stone XL pipeline. Six Re­pub­lic­ans and three Demo­crats also signed on to the amend­ment, which is es­sen­tially a non­bind­ing state­ment of sup­port.

Oth­er amend­ments have noth­ing to do with en­ergy at all. Six GOP amend­ments, in­clud­ing Vit­ter’s, seek to lim­it, delay, or out­right block the Af­ford­able Care Act. An­oth­er, pro­posed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would re­form set­tle­ments un­der the En­dangered Spe­cies Act.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., com­plained about the ex­traneous pro­pos­als on the Sen­ate floor Thursday. “There’s not a single amend­ment that’s been al­lowed to be offered in this le­gis­la­tion that has any­thing to do with en­ergy,” he said.

But most of the Re­pub­lic­an-pro­posed amend­ments did have an en­ergy fo­cus — just likely not in a way that would would meet the bill’s “en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency” la­bel. Amend­ments filed Wed­nes­day and Thursday in­cluded 45 with solely GOP spon­sors. Twenty-nine of those — ex­clud­ing the ones aimed at the Af­ford­able Care Act — would lim­it agen­cies’ reg­u­lat­ing power; cut or elim­in­ate ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tions; slash or con­sol­id­ate green pro­grams; give states more ways around fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions; or re­duce grants, loans, and tax cred­its for en­vir­on­ment­al ef­forts.

One such amend­ment, pro­posed by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., would pro­hib­it the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency from en­act­ing reg­u­la­tions with more than $1 bil­lion in com­pli­ance costs without first gain­ing con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al. That and a sim­il­ar amend­ment backed by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jeff Flake, R-Ar­iz., closely re­semble the En­ergy Con­sumers Re­lief Act that passed the GOP-con­trolled House earli­er this year.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., pro­posed a re­peal of the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard, while Sen. James In­hofe, R-Okla., sub­mit­ted his own plan al­low­ing states to opt out of it. An­oth­er plan grant­ing states ex­tra power would pre­vent EPA from over­rid­ing state pro­grams to con­trol haze; that amend­ment was pro­posed by Sen. Mi­chael En­zi, R-Wyo. And a pair of amend­ments in­tro­duced by Sens. John Bar­rasso, R-Wyo., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., seek to pre­vent es­tim­ates of the so­cial cost of car­bon — a cal­cu­la­tion to as­sess the eco­nom­ic im­pact of emis­sions — from be­ing used in agency rule­mak­ing.

Re­pub­lic­ans wer­en’t the only ones pro­pos­ing off-top­ic amend­ments. Sen. Bar­bara Box­er, D-Cal­if., called for a halt to con­gres­sion­al pay if le­gis­lat­ors fail to raise the debt lim­it. Mean­while, sev­er­al of her fel­low Demo­crats hail­ing from red states joined with Re­pub­lic­ans on amend­ments lim­it­ing fed­er­al reg­u­la­tion. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., teamed with Ho­even in an ef­fort to block new reg­u­la­tions for oil and gas ex­plor­a­tion on fed­er­al lands. An­oth­er bi­par­tis­an state pair­ing saw Sen. Robert Ca­sey, D-Pa., join Toomey on an amend­ment to ex­empt power plants fueled by coal wastes from fed­er­al emis­sion stand­ards.

A few amend­ments were ac­tu­ally re­lated to the bill’s en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency goals. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sub­mit­ted a par­tially hand­writ­ten pro­pos­al to re­quire fed­er­al work­ers to turn off the lights and un­plug elec­tric­al devices at the end of the day. An­oth­er amend­ment ad­ded by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., would man­date dis­clos­ures of en­ergy us­age by all fed­er­al build­ings. Sev­er­al oth­er Demo­crat­ic amend­ments of­fer grant and loan pro­grams for con­ser­va­tion and en­ergy-sav­ings pro­jects.

In all, sen­at­ors in­tro­duced roughly 80 amend­ments to the bill Wed­nes­day and Thursday. Vit­ter’s may be get­ting all the at­ten­tion, but the Sen­ate will still have plenty of di­vis­ive is­sues to dis­cuss if he drops his amend­ment.

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