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Senate Passes First Comprehensive, Bipartisan Energy Bill Since 2007

By a vote of 85-12, the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan energy bill, S.2012 – the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, last Wednesday. The bill’s passage marks the first time in almost a decade since the Senate has passed a comprehensive energy bill. The bill contains titles focused on efficiency, infrastructure, supply, conservation, accountability, and resources. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, authored and led the passage of the bill. For more on the energy bill, read on!

Key provisions of the bill would enhance energy savings; facilitate the modernization of the electric grid; support research and development of new clean energy technologies; promote the development of hydropower, geothermal, methane hydrates, and other resources; streamline the federal approval process for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports; double investments in cybersecurity research; and launch a smart buildings initiative.

Senator Murkowski noted the bipartisan effort of the Senate in the passage of the bill, “The Senate’s overwhelming approval of our broad, bipartisan bill is a significant victory that brings us much closer to our goal of modernizing our nation’s energy policies.” Senator Cantwell also echoed enthusiasm for the passage of the bill, “This bipartisan bill is an important next step for saving consumers money on energy costs, providing more options to power U.S. homes and businesses, and preparing the next generation of workers for jobs in clean energy.”

The bill has been widely praised by various parties—from the Alliance to Save Energy, the Nature Conservancy, and the solar industry to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Edison Electric Institute—signaling a diversity of support. The environmental community, however, expressed more mixed reviews. Provisions promoting more research on the sequestering of carbon emissions from coal burning as well as streamlining the approval of pipelines and LNG exports were considerably less popular with the environmental community.

Although the bill is not as far-reaching as the energy packages that cleared Congress in 2005 and 2007, its passage signifies a milestone for the gridlocked Senate. In an effort to garner bipartisan support, Murkowski and Cantwell noted the open debate process of the bill, where they accepted more than 60 amendments offered by Senate colleagues on both sides during the floor debate. While the bill addresses some of the nation’s most pressing energy issues, it altogether avoids energy issues that would likely provoke partisan debate. Nowhere in the bill is there a provision about ethanol or greenhouse-gas emissions from the power sector—two politically charged issues.

The next step for the bill is a conference committee with the House of Representatives to negotiate the Senate legislation with the more contentious House bill. On this issue, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton is hopeful that all parties will work out their differences.

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Thomas R. Burton, III

Member / Chair, Energy & Sustainability Practice

Tom Burton has helped to shape the clean energy industry by drawing on his passion for innovation. As a Mintz attorney, Tom counsels investors, entrepreneurs, and Fortune 100 companies. He also guides start-up organizations and accelerators to foster the next generation of energy leaders.

Sahir Surmeli

Member / Co-chair, Energy & Sustainability Practice

Sahir Surmeli is a Mintz business counselor who advises companies, boards, entrepreneurs, investment banks, and venture and private equity investors as they build and grow companies. He handles public offerings, 144A and private financings, acquisitions, joint ventures, and strategic partnerships.