The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 15-8 to approve a sweeping energy bill today after months of work, sending the measure to the Senate floor, where many are vowing to make changes.
Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Robert Menendez of New Jersey voted against the bill, and Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Bob Corker of Tennessee supported it.
Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) called the bill a compromise that moves federal energy policy forward.
"None of us approve of every provision, none of us got everything that we wanted," Bingaman said. "The end product, I believe, is a solid piece of work. It is one which will help not only to enable us to produce new sources of energy, but to use our energy sources wisely and more efficiently."
The bill's major provisions would, among other things, impose a national renewable electricity standard, overhaul federal financing for "clean energy" projects, establish a suite of efficiency measures, mandate new federal electricity-transmission siting power, and allow wider oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Other provisions address improving cybersecurity, creating a strategic refined products reserve, boosting energy work force training and establishing liability protection for parties taking part in Energy Department-backed carbon-sequestration demonstration projects.
Fights await the bill on the Senate floor.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has pledged a vigorous battle against a provision added last week that could bring oil and gas rigs closer to Florida's Gulf Coast, upending a 2006 deal that provided the state a 100- to 235-mile no-drill buffer through mid-2022.
Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat, said Democratic leadership has not yet taken a position on the drilling amendment added last week, which would move the buffer to 45 miles and allow drilling even closer to shore in a gas-rich region called the Destin Dome.
"I want to hear [Nelson] out before I take a position on it," Durbin told reporters yesterday. Asked if he was concerned about upending the Florida buffer that was in a 2006 law that expanded gulf drilling, Durbin replied: "I am."
There will also be a battle over the renewable electricity standard (RES) as environmental groups and allied lawmakers call to raise the renewable-electricity goals.
The bill requires utilities nationwide to provide 15 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2021, while allowing up to a quarter of the requirement to be met with energy-saving measures instead. Environmental groups have called for a renewable standard of 25 percent by 2025.
Indeed, some liberal committee members said the measure is not strong enough. "This is an extremely weak bill, and the only reason I am voting for it is to see if we can strengthen it on the Senate floor," said Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).
But in a sign of how delicate major energy bills can be, moderate Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) -- who was wary of even the bill's more modest RES -- warned that substantial changes to the bill would lead him to reconsider his support for it on the floor.
Meanwhile, Landrieu, Murkowski and others plan floor attempts to provide coastal states a share of revenues from oil and gas development that may occur in federal waters off their shores. Four Gulf Coast states -- Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama -- won revenue sharing under the 2006 gulf leasing law.
Landrieu said her opposition was based on the absence of revenue sharing and the need for greater support for nuclear power.
Murkowski also wants addition of more provisions to boost nuclear energy. But she called the bill an acceptable compromise for the moment.
"There have been things that you didn't like, there have been things that I haven't liked," she told Bingaman before the vote. "But if any of us in this body can find one bill that we think is a perfect piece of legislation, I can find 99 other members who will fight you on that. Despite all the warts that are contained in this legislation, I think we are at a worthwhile place in the process."
She noted her support for the expanded eastern gulf drilling, creation of a federal "Clean Energy Deployment Administration" to fund advanced energy projects, and other provisions, while reiterating her criticism of inclusion of a renewable power mandate.