WASHINGTON – The Senate approved a wide-ranging energy bill Wednesday that would promote a variety of energy sources and speed federal approval of projects to export liquefied natural gas to Europe and Asia.
Senators backed the measure, 85 to 12, the first ambitious energy bill approved by the Senate in nearly a decade.
The bill would boost renewables such as solar and wind power, as well as natural gas, hydropower and geothermal energy. It also would encourage so-called clean coal technology, including projects to capture carbon dioxide generated by coal-fired power plants.
The bill also would update building codes to increase efficiency, strengthen electric-grid safety standards and reauthorize a half-billion dollar conservation fund that protects parks and other public lands.
The measure would cost an estimated $32 billion over five years. It now must be reconciled with a House-passed version that boosts fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the House measure.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the Senate bill will help America produce more energy “and bring us one step closer to being an energy superpower. At the same time, it will help Americans save more money and save energy with all of the energy-policy provisions.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the senior Democrat on the energy panel, called energy “the lifeblood of our economy,” adding that the Senate bill would help businesses and consumers get more affordable, cleaner and renewable energy.
The bipartisan bill is widely popular, but was delayed in early February amid a partisan dispute over a plan by Michigan’s two Democratic senators to send hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency aid to Flint to fix and replace the city’s lead-contaminated pipes.
Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters dropped the Flint provision last week after a months-long standoff with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Stabenow and Peters said they would seek another way to get the Flint aid package through the Senate.
Congress last approved broad energy measures in 2005 and 2007, during the George W. Bush administration. The two laws aimed to boost U.S. energy independence by cutting reliance on imported oil, boosting fuel economy standards for cars and imposing a mandate for ethanol in gasoline.
Since then, the U.S. energy landscape has changed dramatically, as improved drilling techniques, including hydraulic fracturing, have sparked a years-long boom that has pushed the United States toward become the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals into underground rock formations, allowing oil and gas to flow.
The Senate bill includes a long-delayed energy efficiency measure that includes incentives to cut energy use in commercial buildings, manufacturing plants and homes. The measure, co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has passed the Senate before but has not been approved in the House.
Murkowski and Cantwell said they were confident that Senate and House negotiators would agree on a compromise bill this year.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House energy panel, also was optimistic. The Senate vote brought Congress “one step closer to embracing policies that say yes to energy,” he said.
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