The full House voted Wednesday to conference with the Senate to reconcile differences between the separate House and Senate energy bills. The members approved replacing the Senate's more bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 (S. 2012) with the House's more controversial North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015 (H.R. 8).
The vote means that backroom staff negotiations will continue in the search for common ground and that a formal House/Senate energy bill conference is expected to convene in early June.
Calling for a yea vote, Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said Wednesday afternoon on the House floor that the vote would approve replacing the Senate energy bill with the House's “comprehensive compilation of energy legislation that has already passed the House” over the past year and a half.
Burgess explained that with a yea vote, the two chambers can begin “to conference the differences in the two bills, a further step in the regular order of this bill becoming a law.” Indicating the broad scope of the House bill, he said “The legislation will benefit Americans across the country, modernizing our energy infrastructure, expediting and improving forest management, providing for greater opportunities on federal lands for hunting, fishing, shooting, and prioritizing science research using federal taxpayer dollars.”
The legislation is also urgently needed, Burgess said, because “uncertainty due to terrorism and unfriendly and unstable regimes in the Middle East threaten American access to reliable sources of energy.” He said the House energy bill is designed to shift the U.S. away from relying on foreign energy sources in order to develop America's own resources to “fully focus on becoming energy secure.”
Burgess wrapped up his pitch for passage by promising that “Members can feel comfortable that a wide array of opinions and positions are represented in the legislation.”
One sign that not all members are comfortable with the House bill is that the final vote on moving ahead on energy legislation was 242 to 171. Just two Democrats, Jim Costa of California and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, joined 240 Republicans in support.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., delivered further proof that while the Senate passed its energy bill in April with solid bipartisan support, the House bill passed last year is seen as far more partisan.
In Wednesday's debate, Slaughter urged members to reject the House energy bill.
“The House proposal encourages an outdated energy policy that favors fossil fuels above the clean and renewable energy sources and it seeks to roll back important environmental protections,” Slaughter said. Promising that “Democrats will fight to protect the environment and precious natural resources,” she charged that the House energy bill “locks in fossil fuel consumption for years” and “puts up barriers to the integration of critical renewable energy technologies, all while rolling back energy efficiency standards.”
Slaughter concluded that “Americans cannot afford the Republican majority's head-in-the-sand approach to climate change and energy consumption.”
In the end, it was Burgess' promises rather than Slaughter's warnings that carried the day.
The next step, the House/Senate conference, is likely to be more challenging. That's because the White House threatened to veto H.R. 8 as it was passed last year. Now the amended version approved by the House Wednesday includes additional provisions such as the America Competes Act, H.R. 1806, and the Western Water and American Food Security Act, H.R. 2898, which have also triggered veto threats.
As for the possibility that the House might back down in conference to accept at least some of the Senate energy bill's provisions, the conservative Heritage Action policy group has warned that “any final conference product that emerges should advance conservative priorities and conservative policy.” More specifically, Heritage Action has warned that it will oppose and potentially count as a key vote any vote on a “conference product that includes” Senate provisions such as various programs supporting renewable energy or “permanent extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”