Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill Held Up By Political Games

Floor of the United States Senate

An important bipartisan energy efficiency bill is on the floor of the US Senate, but the bill may be weighed down by political posturing and controversial amendments.

With the vote on Syria indefinitely delayed, Congress has some time on its hands before confronting the government funding debates that will return by month’s end. This opens up the opportunity for other legislation to move through but not without the political wrangling that often happens in Washington. A smart bipartisan energy efficiency bill that has been discussed for a number of years is now moving and stirring up a new conversation about old energy ideas.

The Wilderness Society recognizes the importance of the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill understanding that when we save energy we also reduce the demand on our public lands for new energy development. Seeing this bill become law is important and something we support. However, this good bill stands to be tarnished by needless political maneuvering that would change the overall objectives.

The conversation in Washington was summed up yesterday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “We haven't done an energy bill around here in a long time, so there is a desire on both sides to move forward on this.”

What this means is that both Democrats and Republicans are getting ready to offer a number of controversial amendments unrelated to energy efficiency. There have been a number of opportunities for broader energy legislation to move forward in the past and we can create appropriate opportunities in the future. But now is the time for us to remain focused on the true task as hand— making our homes and businesses more efficient so we waste less.

Right before leaving for the August recess, the senate approved two bills dealing with the issue of hydropower. Those bills didn’t garner much attention, so they sailed through without any unrelated amendments being tagged on. They were bipartisan, just like the energy efficiency proposals. They were considered through regular order, just like the energy efficiency proposals. The House had already passed a companion measure, just like the energy efficiency proposals. But the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill is being held hostage by politics as usual. The Shaheen-Portman bill should be an easy lift for the senate. It passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a bi-partisan vote of 19-3.  In theory, that means that the bill has large enough bipartisan support to easily clear the 60 vote hurdle that the senate has now. But alas, the number of amendments that are going to be offered may kill the bill before it gets there.

This includes an amendment to approve the infamous Keystone XL pipeline, as well as an amendment that would undermine the President’s climate change agenda and his administration’s ability to properly account for carbon emissions. These types of controversial amendments are only being used to splinter support of the original efficiency bill and highlight pet issues for a few.  

The bottom line is that this is a bill that has wide support on the basis of smart energy efficiency policy. The idea that our appliances and buildings should be using less energy is completely non-controversial, and will create jobs and save our lands from being drilled for energy. The senate can pass energy legislation when it wants to, but political games may prevent it from becoming law. It’s time for the senate to pass the bill without controversial amendments and help improve the nation’s energy policy.

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