Senate Dems revive Tuesday talks to push energy bills forward in 2012

Source: Elana Schor and Katie Howell • E&E • Posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2011


A group of Democratic Senate committee leaders who led regular climate bill strategy sessions last Congress have resumed their weekly meetings in an effort to push forward energy legislation next year.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who helped spearhead talks last Congress on an ill-fated climate bill, told reporters today that a group of Democrats — including Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) — have been meeting before the Senate’s regular Tuesday caucus lunches to discuss a potential bipartisan path forward on energy legislation in 2012.”Everything that might be able to attract” votes from both parties would be on the table, Kerry said, noting that the time frame for assembly of and debate on a bill would be determined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and “whatever kind of coalition gets put together.”

There is “an interest on the Republican side to try to do things about energy,” the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee added.

The exact roster of senators involved in the talks remains uncertain, but an aide said the list is similar to those who were involved in last year’s climate discussions.

Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Bingaman, confirmed that the Energy chairman has been involved in the meetings last Tuesday and today.

“I think that they’re starting to resume that every Tuesday,” Wicker said. “I think that part of the objective is to advance energy legislation as best that it can be advanced in this divided Senate that we have.”

The Energy Committee has passed an impressive 61 bills this year, but only a handful have cleared the full Senate. And none have been debated on the Senate floor. Many of those measures that passed out of the committee with bipartisan support could be ripe for discussion by the new energy working group.

A possible contender is a building and manufacturing energy efficiency measure (S. 1000) from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that easily cleared the committee earlier this year.

Portman said today that he and Shaheen have talked about how to fold their bill into the bigger bill taking shape. “It would be a great candidate for a kind of consensus package on energy,” he said, adding that “even the president talks” about the value of more efficient power consumption.

And a short-term priority of the working group is likely approving a suite of renewable energy tax credit extensions that are set to expire at the end of this year.

Tax extenders “seem to be front and center right now when it comes to energy matters — getting those tax extenders renewed and paid for, building bipartisan support to get them redone,” Wicker said. “I suspect that a lot of the conversation was about that.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the senators’ plans is the calendar. The heightened partisan pressures of presidential election years tend to deter lawmakers from reaching accord, and next year is expected to be no different.

Kerry acknowledged that speed is of the utmost importance: “We’re going to have a small window next year” given election-year pressures, he said. “Everybody understands that.”

Portman agreed that acting quickly next year would give the energy bill a better chance at passage but sounded an optimistic note. “Welfare reform happened in an election year,” he said. “It can be done.”

Another hurdle senators could face is lingering skepticism about big-ticket energy legislation that remains after the failure of the climate bill Kerry pushed alongside retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Kerry said today that he had taken some helpful conclusions from that defunct effort while defending it as “one of the best legislative initiatives I’ve been a part of here.”

“Why didn’t it succeed?” Kerry added. “Pure politics. … We need to move beyond that.”