The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a comprehensive energy bill that has many provisions that construction and other industry groups support, including expedited approval of natural gas and hydroelectric projects
The measure, which the Senate passed on April 20 by a bipartisan 85-12 vote, would speed reviews for liquefied natural gas terminals and pipelines as well as and hydroelectric power projects. It also includes new energy-efficiency measures for buildings and significant boosts for solar, geothermal and clean-coal projects and research.
The bill, sponsored by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowki (R-Alaska) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Maria Cantwell (Wash.), is expected to cost $32 billion over five years.
But the Senate vote isn’t the final word. The bill must be reconciled with legislation that the House passed Dec. 3.
That will be a challenge, Murkowski told reporters shortly after the vote, both because of time limitations and substantive differences between the two bills. The House bill places more emphasis on fossil fuels, such as coal and gas.
“In order to have a conference, the House and Senate have to be in town at the same time,” Murkowski said. She also noted the differences between the measures and added, "We have our work cut out for us.”
Many industry groups, including the American Public Power Association, the National Electrical Contractors Association, were quick to praise the bill’s passage. Buildings organizations, including the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers and the Alliance to Save Energy also hailed the Senate’s action
But the measure also has critics. The American Institute of Architects has long ben fighting a provision that would repeal targets for reducing fossil-fuel consumption in federal buildings. Those targets were contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.
AIA President Russell Davidson said in a statement: “It makes no public policy sense for Congress to cave in to the oil and gas lobby and kill requirements to reduce fossil fuel consumption in federal buildings…residential and commercial buildings account for almost 40% of both total U.S. energy consumption and CO2 emissions.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council also criticized the legislation, saying that it undermined current environmental protections, such as the National Environmental Policy Act process for energy projects. NRDC also took exception to the provisions to speed reviews of LNG terminals, contending that they go too far.
But Cantwell told reporters that she had agreed to the project-review provisions because the Dept. of Energy had assured her and others on the committee that the bill’s language would merely codify what the department is already doing.
The bill had been slated to reach the Senate floor two months ago, but was delayed when Michigan lawmakers tried to add an aid package to help Flint and cities and states dealing with similar water infrastructure issues.
A deal brokered by Michigan Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and Republican leaders such as Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (Okla.) seemed to break the logjam. But ultimately Stabenow dropped the Flint package from the bill. She says, however, that she will look for another vehicle in coming weeks.