SPECIAL WEB UPDATE: Senate Approves Last Year's Energy Bill?!
IN A NUTSHELL: As reported in an AGI
special update, the Senate spent the last week of July debating
comprehensive energy legislation. That debate quickly devolved into
bickering over nearly 400 proposed amendments and waging a partisan
fight over President Bush's judicial nominees. Rather than leave town
for the August recess without finishing the energy debate, Senate
Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist (R-TN) brokered a deal under which this year's bill, S. 14,
was traded for last year's, S. 517. The bill passed 84-14 setting
the stage for a Conference Committee of House and Senate members to
iron out the differences between this bill and the bill that the House
passed, H.R. 6, on April 11th.
THE DEAL: In the end, the one thing all sides could agree on was that it was better to pass a bill and move the energy debate further along in the legislative process than to do nothing at all. Democrats, who were losing votes on many of their amendments, agreed to the switch because last year's bill was sheparded through the process under a Democrat-controlled Senate by Daschle. Senate Republicans agreed to the switch believing that they can craft a bill closely mirroring the House-passed, presidentially backed version when the House and Senate meet for a Conference Committee.
Suprisingly, there was no objection to the unanimous consent (UC) agreement under which the bills were swapped. Any Senator, especially one of the 11 senators who voted against last year's version, could have objected and put an end to the deal. To pacify the objections of Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Senators promised to allow separate votes later this year on energy-market manipulation. In order to win support from Senator McCain (R-AZ) for the switch, McCain and Senator Lieberman (D-CT) were guaranteed 6 hours of floor time to debate climate change when the Environment and Public Works Committee's Climate Stewardship Act comes up for debate. McCain and Lieberman are expected to offer an amendment that would set a national goal of stabilizing U.S. greenhouse emissions for several major industrial sectors at year 2000 levels by the year 2010.
Once the switch was made, 14 Senators still voted against the bill. They were Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), John Sununu (R-NH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), McCain and Cantwell.
HOW THE TWO SENATE BILLS DIFFER: The major points of difference between the old and new Senate bills are:
HOW THE HOUSE AND SENATE BILLS STACK UP: There are vast differences
between last year's Senate bill, S. 517, and this year's House bill,
H.R. 6. The 2002 Senate bill would have directed utilities to increase
the amount of electricity generated by wind power and other renewable
sources and created a new White House office on climate change and
a registry of companies' greenhouse gas emissions. The House bill
does not. This year's House legislation approved drilling in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge; S. 517 did not. The Senate and House versions
also differ on the authority given to federal regulators to oversee
utility mergers. A chart showing how last year's Senate bill stacks
up to this year's House bill can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_bill_comparison.html.
Going into conference a few issues have bipartisan support, like doubling production of ethanol, a corn-based gasoline additive, and restrictions on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's attempts to open the nation's power transmission system to more long-distance deliveries of electricity. However, in shelving this year's Republican energy bill, S.14, Senate GOP leaders gave up some important issues, including loan guarantees for half a dozen new nuclear power plants. Senate Republicans will be struggling to make up for lost ground and depending on the House to help them along the way.
The Conference Committee could convene as early as this fall to begin
working out the differences between these two bills. They will have
until the end of the 108th Congress, late fall or early winter 2004,
to present a bill to the House and Senate, respectively, for a yes-or-no
vote. No amendments may be made to legislation emerging from a Conference
Update prepared by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily, The Washington Post
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted August 4, 2003