This week the U-S Senate is expected to have a debate on a bill that would modernize the federal government's use of energy, but it could get derailed by an oil pipeline in the Midwest.
The federal government is the single biggest consumer of energy in the U-S, so a bipartisan group of lawmakers want to make it an example to the private sector.
The Shaheen-Portman energy bill attempts to do that by increasing energy efficiency in everything from federal worker's computers to federal buildings themselves. Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says it's good the bill also increases efficiency standards for buildings nationwide.
“The conservation and efficiency technologies are amazing – they can do so much, so accelerating that in the federal space through this legislation is really smart. And it’s something we ought to be able to all be on the same page on.”
Kaine says it could be especially good for the commonwealth. “We have some amazing innovators who are headquartered in Virginia but just don’t do a lot of projects in Virginia, that’s kind of an interesting thing. A company like O Power that’s in Arlington and AES, which is one of the largest producers of alternative energy in the world – they’re headquartered in Arlington, they just don’t have big projects in Virginia. I think something like this bill could take some existing institutions that are already doing good work in this area and accelerate what they do.”
But Republican leaders, like Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, are demanding the debate be broader than just energy efficiency. Barrasso and others are negotiating a way to get an up or down vote on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the gulf coast.
“I want something to actually go to the president’s desk. That says approve Keystone and he signs it. And if he wants to veto it he gets to do that.”
The House has already approved the measure, but the White House doesn’t want Congress to weigh in on the issue that it’s left in the State Department’s hands. Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith says that’s a cop out. He says energy decisions should be made on Capitol Hill.
“So the United States Congress – the legislative branch – ought to have a serious debate about whether or not we want to kill our economy over policies being made by bureaucrats in alabaster towers in Washington, D.C.”
Griffith says the argument for increasing domestic energy jobs is only enhanced by projections that China will overtake the US as the world’s leading economy as early as this year.
“It’s absolutely a travesty for our children and our grandchildren to allow the Chinese to have the number one economic nation when there’s no reason for them to be in that position this soon. Maybe sometime in 50 or 75 years from now, but in 2014 or 2015? It is an indictment of the failures of economic and energy policies by this administration that put us at a point where we may not be the number one nation in the world.”
And Griffith expects energy issues to be a deciding factor in November’s elections, especially if Senate Democrats block a vote on the pipeline.
“And I hope the American people will realize that if the United States Senate isn’t willing to take these issues up and deal with them in an aggressive fashion then they ought to be replaced.”
But Senator Kaine says the energy efficiency bill is important on its own. He says the broad bipartisan coalition behind it can also send a message to public that is fed up with Congress.
“We ought to be looking to do those things just to show people, ‘Look, we know how to work together.”
Party leaders continue to negotiate just how many amendments to allow and whether to allow a standalone vote on the pipeline. If that happens it just may pass with the support of rank and file Democrats which analysts say would embarrass the president at a time when his approval rating continues to slump.