- The Washington Times - Monday, December 12, 2016

Continuing a decade of futility on the issue, House and Senate negotiators fell short yet again last week in crafting a comprehensive energy bill, and punted the issue to the next Congress and the incoming Trump administration.

Republican leaders in the Senate pinned the blame squarely on the House GOP, which appears to be banking on the fact it can pass more comprehensive energy legislation — one that addresses environmental regulations and some of President Obama’s more controversial steps to fight climate change — once President-elect Donald Trump is in the White House.

“The conferees were not able to come to agreement on various outstanding issues in time for the House to consider a conference report,” Doug Andres, spokesman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, told The Washington Times.

But Senate leaders scoffed at that explanation and bemoaned the fact that Congress has failed to pass a broad energy bill in nearly 10 years. The last such legislation was signed into law in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush.

The most recent effort attracted bipartisan support in the Senate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican and chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, Democrats’ ranking member on the panel, worked on the legislation for nearly two years, and it passed the Senate in April, garnering more than 80 votes.

The bill included provisions to modernize the nation’s electric grid, speed up approval for natural gas exports, promote the development of more hydropower and beef up cybersecurity at nuclear power facilities — among other steps. The House passed its own energy bill later in the spring, and the two chambers in July began working to hash out differences.

The House version, however, contained provisions that the White House had vowed to veto, including weakening government regulations on energy efficiency, the permitting of power transportation projects and others. The two versions also differed on the specifics of liquefied natural gas exports and how long government reviews of export facilities should take.

Reconciling the two seemed promising in July, when House and Senate negotiators first began their work. Instead, lawmakers now will once again have to go back to the drawing board in July.

While Ms. Murkowski said the Senate’s bipartisan bill was encouraging, she said their work ultimately was futile because of House inaction, and she suggested that House leaders had intentionally given up on trying to bridge differences.

“You’ve got to get it over the finish line,” she said in a Senate floor speech last week. “After two years of work and being this close to the finish line, we’re being denied that opportunity to share that success because of a lack of action over in the other chamber. They stopped negotiating in good faith. They stopped working to reach agreement.”

With Republicans in control of the House and Senate, and with Mr. Trump set to become president Jan. 20, it’s likely the GOP could muscle through a much more ambitious energy package next year, one that could speed up fossil fuel exploration, cut Environmental Protection Agency regulations, roll back climate change programs and take other steps Democrats are sure to oppose.

While such a bill could very well pass and be signed into law, it would be a far cry from the bipartisan effort the Senate put forth in the spring, leading some energy analysts to blast Congress for being so close to a landmark compromise and falling short at the eleventh hour.

“It’s just very frustrating to see Congress again fail to act on energy efficiency policies that have so much bipartisan political, business and public support, and that would help so many people and businesses save money on their energy bills,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a leading energy efficiency coalition. “Americans should be outraged that Congress has let them down yet again by failing to pass these common-sense efficiency policies, which have been stalled in Congress for a half-decade. The battle may be done for the year, but we will be back in the fight next year.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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