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Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Impass Another Sign Of Partisan Gridlock?

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Energy is one of the more divisive energy issues facing politicians today. But amid this push-pull, there is broad agreement that using less energy to do the same thing is a cheap and easy fix for many energy problems. This is why for over three years, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen has been working with Ohio Republican Rob Portman to pass a federal energy efficiency bill.

“Energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest way to deal with our energy needs, and it’s something you can find broad agreement on whether you support fossil fuels, or alternatives or a combination. Everybody benefits from energy efficiency,” said Shaheen in a recent interview.

The Shaheen-Portman bill (or the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, which is its official moniker) comes at efficiency from a variety of angles: encouraging updating building codes, creating worker training programs, and creating loan programs. It also requires the federal government – the largest single energy consumer in the country – to adopt energy saving practices and build at the highest energy efficiency standards.

Some more contentious provisions were dropped when the bill was reintroduced earlier this year – including a pair of loan programs which raised the specter of another Solyndra-type scandal – which has helped it overcome possible conservative opposition.

To call it totally uncontroversial is perhaps overstating the case. Two conservative groups have officially come out in opposition to it: Americans for Prosperity and American Heritage Foundation. But even so it was voted out of committee with a 19-3 vote, and has been endorsed by a wide spectrum of environmental and industrial interest groups.

“Whenever you’ve got a bill that’s endorsed by the American Chemistry Council and the Sierra Club, then it feels like a bill that can really garner a lot of support,” says Shaheen.

Shaheen-Portman made it to the floor of the Senate, but it was pulled after a raft of “poison pill” amendments were proposed. These would have attached language about the Keystone XL pipeline, or defunding Obamacare, or delaying new EPA rules to the bill. When no agreement over which amendments to vote on could be found, the bill was pulled from the floor last week to make way for the fight over the continuing resolution that would keep the government running.  This has led to a lot of coverage suggesting that the bill’s troubles are emblematic of a general breakdown in the functioning of Congress.

“Sadly under the Senate rules [these amendments] can hold things up,” says Shaheen, “Now, I believe we ought to change the rules, because I don’t think one person … should be able to hold up a bill that has so much bipartisan support.”

She says that Democrats are considering a number of strategies to keep the bill alive, but no official proposal has yet emerged. Grumblings and rumors abound in the Capitol, suggesting that the bill will be delayed for months. But statements from the stakeholders – including from the staff of the state’s other Senator and co-sponsor, Republican Kelly Ayotte – indicate that there’s strong resolve to keep the bill alive. Of course, only time will tell.