WASHINGTON, May 30, 2017 - A Senate energy bill that failed to make it through the last Congress will be the starting point for talks in this Congress, top Senate staffers on the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee say.

Speaking at the Energy & Environmental Symposium sponsored by the Faegre Baker Daniels consulting firm, Colin Hayes, ENR majority staff director, and the committee’s minority staff director, Angela Becker-Dippmann, sounded optimistic about the chances for agreement.

Both ENR Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and ranking minority member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., “are still absolutely committed to finding common ground on as many issues and fixes for as many problems as they possibly can,” Hayes said. “We are fortunate in that we have two years’ worth of trust that has been built between Chairman Murkowski and ranking member Cantwell.”

Becker-Dippmann added that although “there’s plenty our bosses don’t agree on,” the focus should be on “the core set of policies where there’s room for improvement and agreement.”

For example, while her boss would like to consider putting a price on carbon generation, she said that’s not in the cards. “Why don’t we move forward on some things we agree on?” she asked rhetorically.

Such issues include cybersecurity for the electricity grid and the energy sector’s need for skilled workers. “We’ve all seen the demographic challenges the energy industry is about to face, as well as the need to update the skill sets and curricula for the 1.5 million jobs that are going to be appearing in the energy sector between now and 2030,” she said.

But differences with the House likely will remain. Tom Hassenboehler, majority staff director of the House Energy and Commerce energy and environment subcommittee, acknowledged that although the failure of the energy bill last year was “frustrating for my colleagues in the Senate, in some ways it was a necessary exercise in order to get us to a place where we could move forward in this Congress.”

His boss, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is focused on easing government regulations. “How do get government out of the way where they need to be out of the way? How do we provide permitting certainty, transparency, accountability?”

His Democratic counterpart, subcommittee minority staff director Rick Kessler, said Democrats are eager to address carbon emissions. Both he and Becker-Dippmann spoke favorably of the Paris climate agreement that the Obama administration agreed to, but which President Trump is considering withdrawing from.

The Paris agreement is “something we don’t think we should be abandoning from a competitive standpoint as well as from an environmental standpoint,” Kessler said. And Becker-Dippmann said that when Washington state business representatives travel abroad, they are frequently asked about where the U.S. stands on the Paris agreement.

“The voices of businesses who are trying to compete in these international markets are perhaps the most persuasive” for staying in the agreement, she said.

Hayes agreed that greenhouse gas emissions need to be addressed. “At some point, the general agreement in Congress, on a bipartisan basis, that we can and should do something more than we are already doing on greenhouse gases has to translate into legislative action,” he said.

Hassenboehler, however, said Walden is more focused on consumer choice and deregulation. Speaking about climate change, he said, “We’d like to make this issue a little more regional, back to the way energy policy used to be before climate sort of hijacked a lot of energy policy.”


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