On the heels of a House panel’s passage of a comprehensive global-warming bill, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was close to approving a wide-ranging energy bill of its own at ENR press time. The Senate committee package, introduced by panel Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), is similar to the one the House Energy and Commerce Committee cleared on May 21, but there are some key differences.

Bingaman’s bill would require 15% of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2021. The House committee bill has a 20% standard. The Senate committee measure would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority over siting transmission lines in states that have been unable to site facilities or have denied utilities’ applications. The House version does not address that issue. The Senate panel on June 9 added an amendment to expand oil and gas drilling off the Florida coast. The House panel bill is silent on offshore drilling.

Capping greenhouse gases is a key part of the House committee’s measure, but in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee has jurisdiction over greenhouse gases and has not yet drafted a bill.

Senate Panel at Work on Massive Energy Bill
Senate committee bill, sponsored by Bingaman, has a weaker standard for renewable-energy use, compared with House panel’s measure.

Construction industry groups say both bills could bring opportunities for contractors and engineering firms but also may lead to higher costs for building materials and fuel. The House bill is “a non-starter for us,” says Brewster Bevis, the Associated Builders and Contractors’ senior director for legislative affairs. Karen Lapsevic, the Associated General Contractors’ director of tax, fiscal affairs and infrastructure finance, adds, “I think there is going to be kind of a transition period as we try to figure out what this new economy under climate change is going to be—whether it is going to be more opportunities for contractors…or whether it is going to impact development in certain parts of the country because of constraints on where and what people can build.”

Renewable-energy advocates say the Senate bill’s 15% renewables standard and the House bill’s 20% mark are not strong enough. “As currently proposed in both the House and Senate, the [standard] has been weakened and loopholed to such an extent that it would not deploy more renewable energy for years to come,” says American Wind Energy Association spokeswoman Christine Real de Azua. Betsy Loyless, Audubon Society senior vice president for public policy, says, “Those levels...do not take us any further than many of the 29 states that have passed renewable electricity standards.”

A long and circuitous road lies ahead for the bills. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she hopes to have a floor vote by mid-June, but the bill still must go through several committees. The Senate is focusing increasingly on other issues, including health-care reform. As a result, “I’m not too sure the Senate bill will get that far,” says Richard Rudden, senior vice president of Black & Veatch’s management consultant division.