Congress today is spending its time on an unusual pursuit: debating a significant piece of legislation. With debate in Syria sidelined, the Senate is taking up the first major piece of energy legislation to hit the floor since 2007—and it has an actual chance of passing the bill, to boot.
Known as the Shaheen-Portman bill for its bipartisan pair of authors, the “Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act” would set national standards for using energy efficient technology. Up to this point, adoption of those technologies has been, to put it bluntly, a disaster. Out of twelve major economies, the U.S. ranks ninth in energy efficiency. The bill written by New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio’s Rob Portman would apply to the construction and manufacturing industries, and the largest domestic energy consumer, the federal government. Independent evaluations of the bill almost unanimously found that the resulting landscape produces billions of dollars in savings for consumers and businesses alike. It has the potential to cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of 22 million cars and its authors have aggressively cut favored programs to keep it deficit-neutral and non-controversial—no Solyndra loan program lookalikes allowed.
As a result, support for the bill has come from all corners. The White House, numerous major public health groups, the usual suspects who make up the environmental lobby all support it, but so do the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Small Business Association, and the Christian Coalition of America. The bill has already passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a vote of 19-3. Senators are considering amendments to the bill on the full floor right now.
So what could go wrong?
Environmental groups support the legislation as written but are petrified of potential riders. Among the “swimmers moving toward the raft,” as a Forbes writer put it, is a rumored amendment to approve construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. The National Wildlife Federation and nine of the nation’s largest public health groups have been spreading warnings about a rider to cripple Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act, the entire basis for the EPA’s ability to regulate airborne pollutants.
And of course, no major Congressional action would be complete without needless, unstudied opposition. Heritage Action, after the Heritage Foundation released a slate of pointed questions for legislators voting on the bill, urged senators this afternoon to vote “no.” Their press release called the bill “fatally flawed” because “it is based on the idea that businesses and families will act irrationally unless the government intervenes”—which, based on the current state of the country’s energy use, is patently true. Louisiana’s David Vitter, in lieu of debating amendments to Shaheen-Porter, would like the Senate to vote on Obamacare.
But Shaheen-Porter may be one bill that knee-jerk obstinacy proves unable to derail. When Vitter took to the podium to try to cut short debate, he interrupted Senator James Inhofe, the grand poobah of climate denialism. Inhofe had just offered a bit of clarifying language that Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said he also intended to support. Now there’s sentence you don’t see every day.
Molly Redden is a New Republic staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @mtredden.