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.).

Delicate balance

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.

Groups react

The American Petroleum Institute praised the expanded gulf access that the bill provides, while also praising language that protects Canadian oil sands from a 2007 law requiring that federal agencies cannot buy alternative fuels that have higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels.

"The committee took a positive step forward by passing this bill which recognizes the importance of additional offshore oil and natural gas development and Canadian oil to our nation's energy and economic security," API President Jack Gerard said in a prepared statement.

But he added that he wants a coastal revenue-sharing provision added on the floor, which the industry wants to provide states incentive to support offshore drilling.

The Sierra Club criticized the bill after the vote, announcing that it cannot support the measure in its current form and pledging to try to win changes on the floor. The group criticized the RES, saying it "will not result in more clean energy and clean energy jobs than the status quo." The group also attacked the expanded gulf oil and gas access and changes to the 2007 fuels procurement law.

"We will seek improvements that will allow the bill to actually deliver more clean energy, slash energy waste, create new clean energy jobs, and speed our transition away from dirty coal and oil toward cleaner, cheaper energy sources like wind and solar," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope in a prepared statement.

Climate change

Across the Capitol, House Democratic leaders plan to bring their combined energy and climate package to the floor in the coming weeks. It includes a nationwide cap-and-trade system to cut greenhouse gas emissions, along with a renewable power mandate and a suite of other energy measures.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he hopes to bring a combined energy and climate bill to the floor this fall, and Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) says she wants to mark up the climate portions in her committee before lawmakers leave for the monthlong August recess.

But a cap-and-trade plan faces significant Senate obstacles, and some lawmakers have called for considering the Senate Energy Committee's package separately.

Committee adopts national interconnection standard, rejects bigger auto grants
The committee approved the bill following its adoption of several amendments.

The panel narrowly approved Bingaman's amendment aimed at boosting use of distributed generation technologies such as residential solar power by easing their connection to the grid.

Bingaman's amendment would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to craft a national interconnection standard. He said his plan would help replace the current "patchwork" at the state level, where policies differ and not all states have them in place.

He argued that the amendment is needed to spur adoption of distributed sources that increase grid reliability while reducing costs by cutting the need for new baseload power generation. "There needs to be at least a set of common, minimum standards across the nation," he said, while noting that his amendment allows states to use their own policies if they are consistent with the federal standard.

Murkowski opposed the plan, calling it an unwarranted expansion of FERC jurisdiction that usurps states' traditional powers over the electricity distribution system. The committee rejected, by voice vote, a second Bingaman amendment to create a national net metering standard.

The committee also approved Sen. Byron Dorgan's (D-N.D.) amendment aimed at helping deploy the recharging infrastructure that would be needed for widespread use of plug-in electric vehicles, which are seen as a promising way of reducing oil use in the transportation sector.

But Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) failed in her effort to increase the size of grants that could be issued under DOE's Section 136 program, which authorizes grants and loans for auto-industry development of advanced-technology vehicles and related components.

Her plan would have allowed DOE to issue grants covering 50 percent of the costs of industry projects such as retooling plants to make advanced cars or parts. The federal share is currently capped at 30 percent. The grant portion of the Section 136 program has not yet been funded.

The panel rejected her amendment, 11-12.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500