Both the House and the Senate energy committees are planning to release wide-ranging legislation next week in an effort to improve a host of infrastructure and supply issues.
The panels have been working in a bipartisan fashion in hopes of keeping politically contentious items out of the sweeping bills, which are likely to touch on building more oil and natural gas pipelines, energy efficiency, the electric power system and bolstering an industry workforce in need of more skilled employees.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters last week that she hoped a draft version would emerge by week's end, though that never materialized. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., the chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, added that even next week might be an ambitious timeline for his chamber's bill. Their hope is to get a working version out by the August recess.
Both committees have held numerous hearings in an attempt to whittle down the many bills lawmakers have filed into a comprehensive package that could pass both chambers. Given the limited floor time in the Senate, Murkowski had thought pursuing a silver bullet-type of bill would present the best opportunity for getting a vote.
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But the negotiating process has proven cumbersome. Marathon hearings over several weeks have led to late nights between committee staff on both sides of the aisle as they try to thread together something that won't agitate the other side.
"We're trying to work with the Democrats. We have certain things that we want in there that they have — anything that relates to climate change that they perceive as not being something they support, they don't want it in there, whether it's the furnace rule, whether it's removing the ban on fossil fuels in government buildings, or whatever," Whitfield told reporters.
Still, he noted, "Those are small things" and the parties have "broad agreements in some areas." The key, however, is keeping both parties engaged long enough to ensure one side doesn't begin stacking the bill with controversial measures.
That's why Republicans have been hesitant to allow a provision to end a 40-year-ban on exporting crude oil to be put into the bills. The issue is still fairly new, and while liberal Democrats don't want to export crude, many Republicans haven't voiced an opinion for fear of being blamed if gas prices rise. Even Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., hasn't formally endorsed killing the ban, though he has increasingly said positive things about doing so.
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While Whitfield rejected the idea that adding language to scrap the export ban would poison his panel's efforts, it's unlikely the Senate could advance a bill over a Democratic filibuster with it in the bill. Murkowski, though, said she hasn't ruled out the possibility of rolling the ban into the bigger energy bill.
"We've always viewed the alternative vehicles as being several. And a broader energy bill, in my mind, is something that I've always considered," she said.