The Energy Debate That Wasn’t

Key Conservative Stance: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) cast one of the two votes against confirming New York Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, although her qualifications for the job were not an issue. Vitter has opposed much of the Obama administration agenda.
National Journal
Clare Foran and Amy Harder
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Clare Foran and Amy Harder
Sept. 12, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

The second day of the Sen­ate’s first floor de­bate on an en­ergy bill in six years was marked by ob­struc­tion, op­pos­i­tion, and frus­tra­tion.

Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La., held firm in his re­fus­al to al­low de­bate to move for­ward to an en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill un­til Sen­ate lead­ers agree on a time to vote on his amend­ment re­lated to Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law. Vit­ter first in­terfered with the en­ergy de­bate Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, shortly after Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., moved to the bill in place of the Syr­ia res­ol­u­tion that was put on hold.

Vit­ter’s stance put an un­con­tro­ver­sial meas­ure with broad sup­port on a dif­fi­cult le­gis­lat­ive obstacle course.

“Sen­at­ors who have talked about en­ergy policy for years and years now say they want to have their is­sues that are un­re­lated to en­ergy ad­vance today, even though they have the po­ten­tial to un­der­mine this bill,” Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Chair­man Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said on the floor, show­ing clear frus­tra­tion. “I don’t know how that adds up, if you give a lot of speeches at home about sens­ible en­ergy policy and then take steps to un­der­mine it.”

Wyden didn’t name any names, but he didn’t have to.

“Since they were all dir­ec­ted at my activ­ity, I want to re­spond,” said Vit­ter just mo­ments after Wyden con­cluded his com­ments. “I have noth­ing against this bill, I ap­plaud that work. I did hear a lot this sum­mer — quite frankly, I didn’t hear about this bill or any pro­vi­sion of this bill. But I’m not den­ig­rat­ing it.”

Vit­ter isn’t the only Re­pub­lic­an seek­ing to pivot the de­bate. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., also filed an amend­ment to the en­ergy bill seek­ing to delay a key part of Obama­care. He spoke about the amend­ment Thursday morn­ing but didn’t men­tion the en­ergy bill at all.

A num­ber of oth­er Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors also used floor time to voice op­pos­i­tion to the health care law, in­clud­ing John Bar­rasso of Wyom­ing, Dan Coats of In­di­ana, and Jeff Flake of Ari­zona.

Among the GOP voices, Vit­ter’s was the loudest. Wheth­er sen­at­ors will ac­tu­ally get to de­bate en­ergy — even con­tro­ver­sial is­sues like the Key­stone XL pipeline and cli­mate-change reg­u­la­tions — now hinges on wheth­er Vit­ter either backs down from his amend­ment or comes to an agree­ment with Sen­ate lead­ers on an­oth­er path to vote on it down the road.

Even if a deal is reached with Vit­ter, more obstacles await. Sens. John Ho­even, R-N.D., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., in­tro­duced an amend­ment Thursday that would de­clare the Key­stone pipeline to be in the na­tion­al in­terest. A de­cision on a per­mit for the con­tro­ver­sial pro­ject is still pending at the State De­part­ment.

On an­oth­er thorny is­sue, Sens. Joe Don­nelly, D-Ind., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in­tro­duced an amend­ment that would ban the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency from re­quir­ing costly car­bon-cap­ture and se­quest­ra­tion tech­no­logy to be used in or­der to com­ply with cli­mate-change reg­u­la­tions. The amend­ment would in­stead re­quire the EPA to de­vel­op tech­no­logy stand­ards for dif­fer­ent fuels and dif­fer­ent sources of emis­sions.

Bar­rasso is also push­ing an amend­ment to block the agency’s up­com­ing cli­mate rules un­less they are ap­proved by Con­gress. The EPA is ex­pec­ted to is­sue reg­u­la­tions lim­it­ing car­bon emis­sions for new power plants very soon.

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