Energy bill impasse kills Keystone vote

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WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan bill to encourage energy efficiency in buildings died Monday in the Senate, derailed by the contentious debate over the Keystone XL pipeline and President Barack Obama's plans to issue new climate change regulations.

The bill's end came as the Senate voted 55-36 on a procedural motion, falling five votes short of the 60 required to bring the bill to a final vote.

The measure, sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., was a rarity in today's political environment: Until last week, it had bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. A House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., has also drawn bipartisan backing.

Just a few weeks ago, leaders of both parties were optimistic that the Senate bill would show bipartisan accord is still possible in a gridlocked Capitol and lead to a broader energy bill.

But partisan differences emerged last week as the bill came to Senate floor debate, and Republicans pushed for amendments, including one that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast and another to block Mr. Obama's efforts to issue climate change rules without congressional action.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to let the amendments come up for a vote, leading to a standoff from which neither side backed down.

It has been seven years since Congress has passed a major energy bill. A variety of energy issues have become top concerns since then. There is the push to combat global warming, which scientists say is made worse by the burning of coal, oil and gas, and the debate over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which environmentalists fear will contaminate water supplies but which also has led to a boom in oil and gas. The crisis in Ukraine, which depends on Russia for its energy supplies, has also raised questions about whether the United States should export gas and crude oil to achieve foreign policy goals.

The modest energy-efficiency bill was a bundle of small-bore provisions aimed at cutting homeowners' energy use, utility bills and carbon footprints by, among other steps, making it easier for consumers to buy "smart metered" water heaters and cheaper for manufacturers to build energy-efficient cooling and heating systems.

"This is larger than losing this energy-efficiency bill," said Margot Anderson, executive director of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Energy Project. "People are worried that if we can't even pass that, we're not in good shape to tackle the bigger stuff."

Last week, it became clear that the Keystone pipeline issue and Mr. Obama's climate change rules, both issues in the 2014 elections, had overshadowed the energy-efficiency debate.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly delayed a decision on whether to approve the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels a day of carbon-heavy crude from Canada's Alberta oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. The pipeline has become a political weapon for Republicans, who say it would create jobs and help ensure U.S. energy security.

Four vulnerable Senate Democrats -- Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas -- have sought to distance themselves from Mr. Obama by supporting the pipeline.

Republicans have also sought to use the climate change regulations that Mr. Obama is expected to announce soon -- which will target coal-fired power plants, the nation's largest source of carbon pollution -- for political purposes by accusing Democrats of waging a "war on coal."

Even if the GOP amendments had failed, party leaders had hoped the votes would put some incumbent Democrats on the spot. After a week of negotiations, the two sides reached an impasse, and the energy-efficiency bill was the casualty.


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