Bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate that would have encouraged energy efficiency in homes and public buildings has been scuttled over differences between the White House plan for new climate change regulations and the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Senate voted 55-36 on May 12 on a motion that would have brought the bill to a final vote. Despite winning a majority of votes, the motion failed because it fell short of the 60 needed for passage.
The legislation had received bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, and from the Obama administration.
The bill was made up of small measures that included the promotion of “smart-metered” water heaters in homes to bring down energy costs – and energy use – as well as financial incentives for manufacturing heating and air-conditioning systems for larger buildings.
As modest as the bill was, its demise underscored a much larger problem, both for energy conservation in the U.S. and the state of the country’s politics, according to Margot Anderson, the executive director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project.
“What gets lost is any momentum on energy,” Anderson said. “People are worried that if we can’t even pass that, we’re not in good shape to tackle the bigger stuff. We can’t even get warmed up.”
The Senate bill was sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). A companion measure in the House was sponsored by David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT). But when the Senate began preparations to debate the bill, Republicans began demanding the addition of amendments.
One of those amendments would have given Senate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and a second would have required President Barack Obama to get approval from Congress before implementing any rules on climate change. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to allow votes on any of the amendments, both sides refused to give in, and sufficient support for the primary bill collapsed.
After the vote, Portman issued a statement saying, “Today’s failure to move forward on a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill is yet another disappointing example of Washington’s dysfunction.”
Nevertheless, Portman supported efforts by fellow Republicans to attach some amendments to the main bill. “It’s a reasonable request, and I wish it could be granted,” he said just before the May 12 vote.
Portman also said he was prepared to negotiate further in an effort to return the legislation to the Senate floor and get it passed, saying, “The negotiation is pretty close, and so I’m hoping it would be reconsidered and we can maybe take a breather … and reconsider just having four or five votes on amendments.”
The amendment on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline appeared to have been a key to the defeat of the primary bill on energy efficiency. The pipeline, proposed by TransCanada Corp., would ship 800,000 barrels of oil each day from the Canadian province of Alberta to refineries in Texas.
The pipeline is vehemently opposed by conservationists, who point to pollution caused by spills from other U.S. pipelines and argue that the project would stall efforts to find carbon-free sources of energy. Supporters of the project say it would create up to 10,000 jobs and help ensure U.S. energy independence.
Due to the political freight of this dispute, Obama has repeatedly delayed a decision on whether to approve Keystone XL. Democrats said that by insisting on the pipeline amendment, Republicans were less interested in passing an energy bill than in making the president’s delays a political issue in this election year.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com