Senate Votes on Keystone Exports, Energy Efficiency Expected Next Week

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By Ari Natter

Jan. 13 — The Senate will vote next week on amendments that would bar the export of oil and refined products from TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone pipeline and increase energy efficiency in federal buildings, after reaching agreement to proceed to legislation (S. 1) that would deem the project approved.

Also included as part of an agreement reached to proceed to the legislation by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is a planned vote on an amendment by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would require steel and other construction materials for the $8 billion, 1,179 mile pipeline to be American made, and a manager's amendment by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) making a technical change to the bill.

“We are going to go back to the regular order process of amendments,” Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told reporters following a closed-door meeting with Republicans in the Capitol. “We haven't had a good substantive energy debate on the Senate floor in years. It's well past time.”

The amendment to bar the exports of crude and refined products from the Alberta-to-Texas project by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) comes as opponents of the project argue the tar sands crude transported by the pipeline is more carbon-intensive than crude produced through traditional means.

“America should not be a middleman between dirty foreign oil and thirsty foreign markets, just so oil companies can make more profits,” Markey, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “The oil industry has said this is about energy security, but I am calling their bluff. This vote will put my colleagues and the oil industry on record over whether they want to keep the oil here for American consumers, businesses and our national security, or continue our dependence on foreign oil.”

Ban on Export of U.S.-Produced Oil

The amendment is also likely to bring to the Senate floor the debate over whether a 40-year-old ban on the export of domestic crude oil should be changed. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 included the prohibition, with some limited exceptions, in the wake of the Arab oil embargo.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also has filed an amendment that would lift the ban, though it remains to be seen if it will receive a vote.

“I do think it would be an issue area that is appropriate for discussion for the Keystone XL bill that we will have on the floor,” Murkowski, who has championed to have the crude oil export ban lifted, told reporters. “Whether or not we want to move for a vote on it is the subject of more discussion.”

Amendment Sought on Oil Spill Fee

In addition, the Senate is expected to vote on an amendment by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that would loosen energy efficiency standards for grid-enabled water heaters, increase energy efficiency in government data centers and promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

The Senate voted 63-32 on Jan. 12 in a procedural vote to advance the bill, four short of the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto.

Another amendment that Democrats are seeking to attach to the bill is a measure that would require tar sands projects to pay a fee into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, told reporters.

Tar sands oil currently is exempt from the eight-cent-per-barrel excise fee on conventional crude oil that pays into the trust fund.

Climate Change Amendment Expected

In addition, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is seeking an amendment stating it's the “sense of Congress” that climate change is real and caused by human activities.

Asked about the prospects that amendment will receive a vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said “nobody is blocking anything.”

Earlier, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told Bloomberg BNA he was told the amendment wouldn't receive a vote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com