Murkowski Fends Off Thorny Add-Ons to Energy Bill

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s big energy policy bill, if it passes, would be the first since 2007.  Several national energy bills have washed up on the rocks since then. Murkowski’s strategy is to keep controversies out of the package, and it was tested at a Senate Energy Committee meeting this morning.

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Going into it, Murkowski, who chairs the panel, faced a stack of 94 proposed amendments to the bill. Murkowski and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, all but pleaded with the other senators not to stuff the bill with features that might become poison pills. Murkowski warned that she’d vote against even amendments she favors if she thought they’d sink the bill.

“I would hope that members would instead choose to offer and withdraw some of these amendments to help preserve this bipartisan work product,” she said.

The practice of “offer and withdraw” allows a senator to go on record and make a speech about an amendment without weighing down the bill. And that was, largely, the order of the day. The committee cleared 25 amendments in Part 1 of the mark-up process. One of the amendments that did get a vote was Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s push for energy efficiency standards for power and gas utilities.

“If we are really serious about telling ourselves and the country that we are serious about reducing the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere, this is a way to do it,” he said.

Franken, of Minnesota, says more than 20 states have already adopted these kinds of efficiency standards and they’ve been very successful.

Murkowski told him those laws should remain at the state level.

“We talk about the states being the laboratories. That’s the way it should be,” she said. “I am concerned, though, that if we have a new federal mandate … you upend the good work that comes out of the states.”

Franken appeared frustrated. He says if the states are the laboratories for Congress on this, the lab results are in already.

“Why don’t we take yes for an answer?” he said. “Why don’t we take ‘It works’ for an answer?”

His amendment failed, along party lines. Sponsors withdrew other amendments relating to rural community subsidies, alternative energy and permits for cross-border pipelines.  At the end of the day, no controversial amendment were attached to the bill but several senators said they’d raise theirs again on the Senate floor, assuming the bill passes the committee.