Energy bill caught up in Keystone XL dispute
Days after President Barack Obama touted executive actions aimed at increasing energy efficiency, a bill with similar goals is expected to fall victim to partisan gridlock in the Senate.
A bipartisan bill to promote many of the same efficiency goals Obama touted Friday in California is expected to go down in defeat Monday amid a dispute over the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the energy bill would tighten efficiency guidelines for new federal buildings and provide tax incentives to make homes and commercial buildings more efficient.
The measure is widely popular in the Senate and easily cleared a procedural hurdle last week. But then politics — and the dispute over the Keystone XL pipeline — intervened.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a parliamentary maneuver to block amendments on the bill, including a measure that would approve construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the United States. Supporters say the measure is needed to end years of delay by the Obama administration on whether to approve the project.
Republicans also were seeking an amendment to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new greenhouse gas regulations on coal-burning power plants.
Reid's actions came after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell objected to Reid's offer to call an up-or-down vote on the energy bill, with a promise for a separate vote on Keystone later.
Pipeline supporters — including a number of Republicans — initially had called for a separate, up-or-down vote on Keystone, as a way to move the project forward or at least embarrass the president by making him veto a measure supported by at least 11 Democrats. Polls show widespread public support for the project, which Obama has delayed several times. Obama delayed the project indefinitely last month, citing uncertainty over the pipeline's route though Nebraska.
Republicans later shifted gears and pushed to include the pipeline vote in the energy bill — a move that angered some pipeline supporters, including Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, has pushed for Keystone approval as a key part of her closely contested re-election campaign.
"If Mitch McConnell wants to have a vote on Keystone straight up or down, where he may get 60 votes, he most certainly has the power in his caucus to make that happen," Landrieu said last week as negotiations for energy legislation began to break down. "They're going to probably blow the opportunity to get a vote on Keystone, because they just can't help themselves."
McConnell and other Republicans say the issue is one of fairness: Republicans deserve a chance to amend the energy bill. McConnell accused Reid of stifling the voice of middle-class Americans who need relief from "rising energy costs and over-the-top government regulations."
The White House said the congressional stalemate over energy made it important for Obama to take action where he can.
"We'd love to see Congress move forward with the Shaheen-Portman bill — and it's unfortunate that Republicans are standing in the way," said Dan Utech, Obama's climate and energy adviser. "But yes, we're going to be doing everything we can with the tools that we have to move forward on energy efficiency."