It doesn’t happen every day, but it did happen Wednesday.
The U.S. Senate acted in a bipartisan fashion to pass a sweeping energy bill, touching on everything from cybersecurity for power plants to the future of the grid. The bill resulted from collaboration between Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell.
It has been widely praised by many industry groups, and received somewhat more mixed reviews from the environmental community. Energy efficiency advocates applauded its measures for buildings and weatherization programs even as some greens have expressed concerns about the legislation’s provisions that would define the burning of biomass as carbon neutral.
The bill, if it merges with House legislation and becomes law, would unleash billions in research and development on new energy technologies, including energy storage, hydrokinetic and marine energy and advancing the electric grid. Many of these initiatives have substantial aisle-crossing appeal, and some could, at least indirectly, help address the problem of climate change (which the legislation does not tackle head on).
The bill also reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and contains provisions promoting more research on the sequestering of carbon emissions from coal burning (so-called “clean coal” technologies) and hastening the approval of pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. The latter two items are considerably less popular with the environmental community – since more LNG exports could, in turn, spur more exploitation of natural gas through fracking and associated technologies domestically.
But the energy efficiency changes, said one leading group focused on the matter, could have a major impact.
The bill, said Alliance to Save Energy president Kateri Callahan, “not only saves homeowners and businesses money and creates jobs, but it also has a huge environmental return by avoiding 1.5 billion tons of carbon emissions. Energy efficiency truly is a win-win-win for our country, making our economy more energy productive, protecting our environment and enhancing our energy security.”
The expected next step is a conference committee with the House of Representatives, to reconcile the Senate legislation with a more politically contentious House bill. The White House has said that President Barack Obama “supports some provisions of the legislation” from the Senate but also raised problems with others.
The barrage of responses praising the bill’s passage – from the Alliance to Save Energy, the Nature Conservancy, and the solar industry to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Edison Electric Institute – signaled a considerable diversity of support.
But not all were pleased.
“This package includes some important and widely supported provisions like the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as modest improvements in energy efficiency and research and development,” said Sara Chieffo, vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. “However, it also contains far too many damaging, anti-environmental provisions, such as exemptions from EPA’s clean air protections, weakened environmental review, and increased export and development of fossil fuels.”