The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced a broad energy bill 18-4 on Thursday.
The bipartisan package covers a suite of policies on energy efficiency, electric grid reliability and energy infrastructure. The bill left out contentious issues such as climate change and lifting the ban on crude oil exports.
Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona, along with Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., were the opposing votes.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she would oppose partisan measures in committee, and members largely withheld controversial amendments. But should the full Senate take up the bill, those fights likely will occur on the floor, threatening to derail the chamber's first serious attempt since 2007 to pass sweeping energy legislation.
"I do think that we can point to some successes this Congress that can be this model for us," Murkowski told reporters, referring to a bipartisan education bill to change the No Child Left Behind Act passed the Senate earlier this month. But Murkowski added that she would be "naive" to think her colleagues wouldn't offer partisan measures on the floor, saying, "I don't think we can predict what the range of issues may be coming forward with the energy bill."
Separately, the energy committee also passed Murkowski's bill to lift the 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil, expand offshore drilling and extend revenue sharing from offshore oil and gas development to coastal states on a 12-10, party-line vote. She declined to elaborate on her plans for moving that legislation forward, though some have speculated the broad energy bill could be a vehicle for it.
While the sweeping bipartisan energy package passed out of committee, not everyone was happy with the product. Environmental groups, for example, split with ranking member and bill co-sponsor Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to oppose the bill because, among other things, it would expedite natural gas export approvals. They also said it doesn't adequately address climate change. Sanders tried to tack on a climate-related amendment, but it was defeated in committee.
But Cantwell said environmental groups like certain measures in the bill that they will ask to strengthen as well, a comment that underscored the balancing act on both sides of the aisle. She singled out the permanent reauthorization of the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund that is due to expire in September. Language in the bill includes changes to how the program operates, such as by ensuring 40 percent of funding goes to states.
"I just think people are going to take ... the Land and Water Conservation Fund and say, 'How do we enhance that?'" Cantwell said, adding, "I think we're just going to have to sort that out before we move forward."
Cantwell and Murkowski have maintained that neither side got exactly what they wanted in the bill, though they contend many of the policies it would enact would lower emissions.
"I'm going to try to get everybody to just draw back from one little specific piece you don't like, or maybe two, and just look at it as a whole," Murkowski said. "Sometimes it has to be a series of incremental steps."