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Energy Bill Faces Some Hurdles

Stephanie Joyce
Wyoming Public Radio

You ever heard of a conference committee? Here in Washington, ‘conference committee’ is congressional speak for when senators and House members get together and try to work out the differences between their competing pieces of legislation.

For the ongoing energy bill negotiations, both Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis and junior Senator John Barrasso are serving on the conference committee. It’s a sweeping bill to minimally boost some renewable energy while also taking down barriers to shipping Wyoming natural gas abroad. Congresswoman Lummis says she’s become more doubtful about the bill.  

“The conference committee staff people have been meeting – there are considerable difference, so my early optimism is currently waning.”

Lummis says the energy bill negotiations deviate from the usual partisan gridlock that grinds Washington to a halt.

“Believe me the differences are more between the House and the Senate more than the political parties, so I think this is one of those bills that if the House and the Senate can resolve their differences, we might be able to come back in November or December and resolve our differences in a lame duck session.”  

Lummis says there are a few disagreements between the two chambers that are on her radar, but one in particular stands out.  

“Land and Water Conservation Fund – the Senate wants to permanently reauthorize, a lot of House members want to make some reforms to take it back to its original intent. So for me, that’s a big one.”

For Senator John Barrasso, the bill’s a little more personal – or, one might even say, presidential.

“I had six Democrat cosponsors of that legislation to make sure we got it through the Senate, and one of the cosponsors is Tim Kaine who is the vice presidential nominee on the Democrat side. So this is important, we need to get it done and it’s important for Wyoming.”  

Passing a massive and seemingly all-encompassing energy bill would also prove a major accomplishment for a gridlocked Congress, according to Barrasso.

“It would be the first time in many years. It’s a comprehensive energy bill. It deals with energy efficiency and energy security. Energy is called ‘the master resource’ for a reason – it powers our economy, it powers our country, I powers our military.”

Democrats are hoping to delay the energy bill, because they think they can make it more progressive under Hillary Clinton, who they think will win in November. Virginia Democrat Don Beyer also says that if Hillary wins Democrats will gain seats in Congress too, which could make the energy bill a little bit more to their party’s liking.

“I’d rather have a Democratic Senate and a House that’s closer for sure.”

Congressman Beyer says if Democrats win back control of even chamber of Congress the bill would go farther and help level the playing field between fossil fuels and renewables.

“In my perfect world we recognize the true price of carbon, which makes all the other alternatives, solar, wind, geothermal, etc., more competitive in the market so I think it helps us move to non-fossil fuels much faster.”

Senator Barrasso disagrees with that claim.

“There continues to be a huge gap between renewable energy, which many people like and is important, but there’s a gap between that and the reliable energy we need to keep the lights on and moving ahead and the energy bill is an important part of that.”

Barrasso – who is a part of the GOP leadership team in the Senate – says he still wants the energy bill to come up this year – after the election that is.

“We ought to get it done this year. That’s what I’m trying to get done and I’m also working to make sure the Republicans maintain the majority position so we keep the chairmanships – the Energy Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee – these are key committees impacting Wyoming and our economy.”

The election outcome is anyone’s guess, which makes the fate of the energy bill a tossup as well. 

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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