Portman, Shaheen Keep Hope Alive on Energy-Efficiency Bill

The bipartisan Senate duo seeks a rare political opening to advance long-stalled legislation being reintroduced on Wednesday.

Ohio Republican Rob Portman and New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen are either gluttons for punishment or close to picking the political lock that often keeps even widely supported legislation out in the cold.

The coming months could bring the answer. On Wednesday the duo is reintroducing major energy legislation to cut energy use in commercial buildings, manufacturing plants, and homes, a measure the senators have floated in one form or another since 2011.

The bill, despite buy-in from well-connected business and environmental groups, has spent years waylaid by Beltway dysfunction and ensnared in fights over more volatile topics like the Keystone XL pipeline and Obamacare. It has reached the Senate floor twice in the last two years, only to stall out.

"We have gotten bogged down in the dysfunction of Washington in the past," Portman told National Journal. "We're hopeful that we can now gain traction in this Congress."

Portman and Shaheen, who will float the bill with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, are hopeful they can convince colleagues to avoid letting it become a magnet for controversial amendments.

The Senate has gotten weeks of debates and votes on Keystone out of the way for the moment, culminating this month in a failed attempt to override President Obama's veto of legislation to authorize the project.

There are many other dangers lurking, such as the push by many Republicans to derail Environmental Protection Agency carbon-emissions rules, which would make the bill a nonstarter for the White House even if it somehow cleared the Senate.

"I hope that we can do it in a way that continues the focus on what we agree about efficiency, because I think there is overwhelmingly bipartisan support for the major provisions of this legislation, and so it would be a shame to let another energy issue to derail our ability to go forward on efficiency again," Shaheen said in an interview.

Avoiding controversial amendments, however, would still not ensure the bill is opposition-free. Heritage Action, an influential conservative group, has opposed previous versions that came to the floor, taking aim at funding authorizations for the bill's programs and also arguing that the bill duplicates existing federal and state efforts.

The wide-ranging bill's various provisions include: new and enhanced Energy Department work with manufacturers to develop and commercialize efficient technologies and industrial processes; stronger "model" building codes and assistance to help states and local governments adopt them; an initiative to train people for careers in efficient building design and operation; provisions to boost energy efficiency in federal buildings; language directing energy savings to be incorporated into federally backed mortgages to encourage greater efficiency, and more.

The two senators say the case for the bill is obvious. According to a summary from their offices, the measure would, by 2030, create more than 190,000 jobs, save consumers $16 billion a year, and cut carbon-dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road.

Supporters include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance to Save Energy, the Business Roundtable, the Environmental Defense Fund, and a broad suite of other groups and individual companies, including corporate giants like Westinghouse and General Electric.