Senate's Energy-Efficiency Bill Bogged Down in Unrelated Amendments

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has effectively taken hostage the Senate's energy-efficiency bill, stalling its progress as he insists on a vote on his amendment to weaken the Affordable Care Act. But his isn't the only amendment tying polarizing issues to the otherwise uncontroversial bill.

One such proposal, led by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., would pressure Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Six Republicans and three Democrats also signed on to the amendment, which is essentially a nonbinding statement of support.

Other amendments have nothing to do with energy at all. Six GOP amendments, including Vitter's, seek to limit, delay, or outright block the Affordable Care Act. Another, proposed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would reform settlements under the Endangered Species Act.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., complained about the extraneous proposals on the Senate floor Thursday. "There's not a single amendment that's been allowed to be offered in this legislation that has anything to do with energy," he said.

But most of the Republican-proposed amendments did have an energy focus — just likely not in a way that would would meet the bill's "energy-efficiency" label. Amendments filed Wednesday and Thursday included 45 with solely GOP sponsors. Twenty-nine of those — excluding the ones aimed at the Affordable Care Act — would limit agencies' regulating power; cut or eliminate existing regulations; slash or consolidate green programs; give states more ways around federal regulations; or reduce grants, loans, and tax credits for environmental efforts.

One such amendment, proposed by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from enacting regulations with more than $1 billion in compliance costs without first gaining congressional approval. That and a similar amendment backed by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., closely resemble the Energy Consumers Relief Act that passed the GOP-controlled House earlier this year.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., proposed a repeal of the renewable-fuel standard, while Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., submitted his own plan allowing states to opt out of it. Another plan granting states extra power would prevent EPA from overriding state programs to control haze; that amendment was proposed by Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo. And a pair of amendments introduced by Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., seek to prevent estimates of the social cost of carbon — a calculation to assess the economic impact of emissions — from being used in agency rulemaking.

Republicans weren't the only ones proposing off-topic amendments. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called for a halt to congressional pay if legislators fail to raise the debt limit. Meanwhile, several of her fellow Democrats hailing from red states joined with Republicans on amendments limiting federal regulation. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., teamed with Hoeven in an effort to block new regulations for oil and gas exploration on federal lands. Another bipartisan state pairing saw Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., join Toomey on an amendment to exempt power plants fueled by coal wastes from federal emission standards.

A few amendments were actually related to the bill's energy-efficiency goals. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., submitted a partially handwritten proposal to require federal workers to turn off the lights and unplug electrical devices at the end of the day. Another amendment added by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., would mandate disclosures of energy usage by all federal buildings. Several other Democratic amendments offer grant and loan programs for conservation and energy-savings projects.

In all, senators introduced roughly 80 amendments to the bill Wednesday and Thursday. Vitter's may be getting all the attention, but the Senate will still have plenty of divisive issues to discuss if he drops his amendment.