WASHINGTON – A widely popular, bipartisan energy savings bill is falling victim to election-year politics and the Obama administration’s continued indecision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The legislation would tighten efficiency guidelines for new federal buildings and provide tax incentives to make homes and commercial buildings more efficient. It easily cleared a procedural hurdle last week but is stalling now after Republican demand for votes on the Canada-to-Texas pipeline and on new administration-proposed greenhouse-gas limits for coal-burning power plants.
While Republicans are united in favour of the pipeline and against the new power plant regulations, Democrats are deeply divided on both. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a parliamentary manoeuvr to block them.
Reid said Monday that Republicans were “still seeking ransom” on the energy savings bill by insisting on the Keystone amendment and other votes. He said he had agreed to a long-standing request from pipeline supporters for a separate vote on the pipeline if its supporters would let the efficiency bill sail through unamended.
Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, called Reid’s manoeuvr disappointing. “The Senate use to be a place of great debate and accomplishment. Now it is run like a dictatorship shutting out the voices of millions of Americans,” he said.
Election-year politics are behind the accusations from both sides.
Democrats said Republicans were unwilling to hand a victory on the energy efficiency bill to co-sponsor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who is facing a re-election challenge from Republican Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts senator who now lives in New Hampshire. Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is co-sponsoring the energy legislation.
The Democrats also said the GOP wants deny political cover to Sen. Mary Landrieu, who faces a tough re-election fight in Louisiana and to other Democrats in energy-producing states who have pushed for the pipeline’s approval during their campaigns. A Senate vote on the pipeline would help Landrieu and Democrats such as Mark Begich of Alaska, even if it fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance it. Obama delayed the project indefinitely last month, citing uncertainty over the pipeline’s route though Nebraska.
On the other side, Republicans accuse Democrats of dodging a vote on blocking the Obama administration’s proposed limits on carbon pollution on coal-fired power plants. No matter the outcome, having to vote on what Republicans call President Barack Obama’s “war on coal” would be uncomfortable for Democrats struggling to hold their Senate majority.
Republicans also wanted a vote on boosting exports of liquefied natural gas, another hot political issue. Lawmakers from both parties support increased gas exports, although 22 senators — mostly Democrats — wrote a letter to Obama last week warning that increased exports could lead to higher prices for consumers and possible shortages next winter.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Obama is committed to increasing energy security and efficiency and “will not rest even if Congress won’t act.”
Obama announced a series of executive actions last week aimed at increasing energy efficiency and reducing U.S. reliance on carbon fuels. They include the completion of energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers typically used in grocery stores. He also announced that more than 300 companies, including Wal-Mart, have pledged to boost their use of solar technology.