With Hopes Fading, Lawmakers Meet On Energy Bill

Congressional efforts to approve the first major energy bill in nearly a decade got a jump-start Thursday as lawmakers convened a long-delayed meeting aimed at finding a bipartisan agreement.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, acknowledged that the election-year bill faces long odds but urged her colleagues to “prove the skeptics wrong” and “succeed where so many anticipate we’ll fail.”

Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy Committee and is among nearly 50 lawmakers from both parties who serve on a joint House-Senate panel tasked with developing an energy bill. The panel met for the first time Thursday after several months of delays.

Prospects for the energy bill have dimmed amid partisan disputes over oil drilling, water for drought-stricken California and potential rollback of protections for the gray wolf and other wildlife, among other issues.

A bill approved by the Republican-controlled House includes at least seven proposals that the White House strongly opposes or has threatened to veto.

Still, Murkowski and other lawmakers said they hope to get a compromise measure to the president’s desk by the end of the year.

“My goal is to update our energy policies in this country and get a … bill that can be signed into law by the president,” she said. “This is our chance to modernize our energy policy. We all know we can do this. We all know how important it is to do this.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the top Democrat on the energy panel, also was optimistic that lawmakers can resolve their differences and deliver a bill that President Barack Obama can sign.

With a “dramatic transformation in energy” ongoing in the United States, “it’s important that we are updating the policies at the national level to help that transformation continue to take place,” Cantwell said.

“We don’t need to be pushing forward ideas that are going to be threatened by a veto,” she added. “Instead, let’s work together to get a policy that can move us forward.”

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House energy panel, said lawmakers face a different challenge from the task they faced in 2005 and 2007, when the last major energy bills were approved.

“We are not here trying to address concerns about energy scarcity, high prices and dependence on imports,” Upton said. “Thanks to private sector innovations leading to increased domestic oil and gas output, the script has been flipped, and Congress can now approach energy issues from a position of strength.”

Upton praised a recent GOP-backed law that lifted a 40-year-old ban on oil exports and said similar gains are possible by boosting exports of liquefied natural gas.

Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, senior Democrat on the House energy panel, offered a lone note of pessimism. An advocate of renewable energy, Pallone said an effective energy policy must deal with climate change – a contentious issue that has long divided Congress along partisan lines.

While agreement is possible, “‘we must be honest with ourselves about our limited ability to resolve highly contentious and complex matters in the short timeframe we have,” he said.


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