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Bipartisan energy bill meant to reach Trump’s desk is stuck on fight over coolant amendment

Written by Abby Smith, published March 09, 2020 by The Washington Examiner

A sweeping bipartisan energy bill is frozen amid disagreements over which amendments to allow votes on, with particularly fierce negotiations over a major bipartisan amendment to limit potent greenhouse gas refrigerants.

The bipartisan energy legislation, introduced by the top two members of the Senate Energy Committee, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, failed a procedural vote on Monday, 47-44, well short of the 60 votes it needed. Senators were voting to advance an updated version of the legislation, which had added 18 relatively minor amendments split between the two parties.

A second version of the energy package, a fallback option that provides a vehicle for the larger bill, also failed a procedural vote on Monday, 15-73.

The failure comes as Senate Republican leadership is refusing to allow a vote on the bipartisan refrigerant amendment, which is already backed by nearly a third of the Senate.

Senate Environment Committee Chairman John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, said he won’t consider the coolant provisions unless language is added strongly prohibiting states from setting their own standards. The amendment from Louisiana Republican John Kennedy and Delaware Democrat Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the environment committee, would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to issue federal regulations restricting the greenhouse gas refrigerants known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

The broader package from Murkowski and Manchin would be the most comprehensive update to energy law in more than a decade.

Manchin, in a statement following the vote, noted the bill “would have added significant climate solutions to our available options” and said he and Murkowski would continue work to try to push the bill forward.

“It’s a shame the good work of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee was impacted by the Environment and Public Works Committee’s inability to reach consensus,” Manchin said in a warning shot to Barrasso and Carper.

The Senate’s top Democrat, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, announced ahead of Monday’s vote that he’d be voting “no” unless McConnell agreed to let the coolant amendment get a vote.

The energy bill “was a rare opportunity to make tangible progress and progress on climate change, as well, an existential threat to our planet,” Schumer said in remarks on the floor on Monday. “I hope my Republican colleagues and leader McConnell in particular see the better side of reason and allow us to vote on bipartisan amendments.”

Carper, in a statement following the vote, said he and Kennedy wouldn’t give up the fight to hold a vote on the amendment.

“The American Energy Innovation Act presents the Senate with a rare opportunity to legislate, and with that comes an even rarer opportunity to enact bipartisan policy that would meaningfully address climate change while supporting American workers and businesses,” Carper said. He noted the coolant amendment is backed by environmental groups, manufacturers, and industry trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Carper urged McConnell to hold a vote on the amendment. An amendment from New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman seeking to ensure provisions to strengthen building codes joins the rest of their energy efficiency legislation already included in the broader package.

McConnell, in his remarks ahead of the vote, didn’t mention the HFC amendment, instead simply praising the bill that he says now has provisions from nearly three-fourths of the Senate.

“I hope and anticipate the Senate will be able to process amendments and then pass the American Energy Innovation Act this week,” McConnell said.

Nonetheless, more than a dozen Republicans voted “no” on the modified bill, including McConnell and Kennedy, and tensions are high.

Kennedy, who has major chemical manufacturers in his state, has threatened to block the entire bill if his amendment doesn’t get a vote. He has said he is confident he’d have the backing of nearly two-thirds of the Senate if a vote were allowed.

Democrats, meanwhile, see the HFC amendment as a way to strengthen the bill’s climate provisions. The Kennedy-Carper provision would limit the coolants consistent with a 2016 global deal to phase them out, an agreement that scientists estimate could avoid half a degree Celsius of global warming by the end of the century.

Without a deal on that and other bipartisan amendments, it isn’t clear when and whether the broader bill could get across the finish line in the Senate. The disagreements could squander what many industry groups and some environmental groups see as the Senate’s best chance in recent history for bipartisan progress on energy and climate.

“We need to seize the moment to pass what we can this year, and then we can work together on additional policy solutions,” said Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. She added the energy bill sets a foundation for additional action.

“Passage of this bill will send a market signal that the federal government and Congress want to work with the private sector and with states and localities to have a robust set of technologies to meet our energy and environmental needs,” Jacobson added.