The U.S. Senate on Wednesday began debate on the country’s first major energy bill in over eight years, featuring measures aimed at protecting the electric power grid against cyber attacks and speeding the export of liquefied natural gas. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican chair of the Senate energy committee and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, its ranking Democrat, urged lawmakers not to thwart passage of the bipartisan bill, which cleared their panel in an 18-4 vote.
A handful of senators were preparing to file amendments to the bill later on Wednesday, to address more contentious energy issues. These were expected to include a measure to repeal a moratorium on coal development on federal land introduced this month by the Interior Department. “Let’s show the Senate can work. Let’s not go crazy with a bunch of ancillary things,” Cantwell said on the Senate floor.
Murkowski said the bill is the result of more than a year of working with committee members to find common ground on a handful of key priorities. “We found common ground in many areas, more, perhaps, than any of us expected,” Murkowski said. The bill focuses on energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and conservation.
Measures include expediting the permitting of LNG projects, natural gas pipeline permits, boosting hydropower production and improving defenses against cyber attacks on the electric grid. Murkowski and Cantwell tried to craft a bill that could pass with bipartisan support in an election year. In December, Congress voted to repeal a 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil, a Republican policy priority.
The deal also included the Democratic goal of extending tax breaks to boost renewable energy for five years. “Not only will this bipartisan legislation help bring our energy policies in line with the demands of today, it will also help position us to benefit from the opportunities of tomorrow,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Obama administration said in a statement that it “supports some provisions of the legislation” but has concerns with a few elements of the bill.