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Energy Bill’s Plan B: The Portman-Shaheen Bill

Humble as it is, an energy efficiency bill by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D–N.H.) and Rob Portman (R–Ohio) may be the only energy bill still alive at the end of the year. Their bill, which would bolster energy efficient technologies in buildings and manufacturing companies, is Plan B in case a bigger Senate energy bill fails.

The broader energy bill puts a premium on efficiency but also addresses other issues like energy infrastructure, supply, distribution, and land and water conservation. Most of its efficiency provisions are plucked directly from Portman and Shaheen’s smaller, yet still embattled efficiency bill.

Portman-Shaheen, as the bill is commonly called, has failed on the Senate floor twice since 2011, a political casualty in the ongoing fight over the Affordable Care Act. Few lawmakers see it as a priority, in part because they are hopeful the broader package will see floor action.

Yet it’s still kicking. At the request of both Portman and Shaheen, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski in July agreed to vote on the bill as a stand-alone measure, even though most of its provisions were included in the broader energy bill that easily passed the committee 18-4.

Smart move, according to efficiency advocates. “Sens. Portman and Shaheen have been very wise to move the bill separately and as part of the comprehensive package because it gives us two different [vehicles] to move the legislation forward,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

Passing Portman-Shaheen along with the bigger bill gives the alliance “very high confidence,” that the energy efficiency provisions will make their way into law. “I don’t think it’s their first play,” Callahan said. But if the broader energy package craters, “It could be looked at as a Plan B.”

Shaheen and Portman sit on the board of Alliance to Save Energy, which has been pushing their legislation for about half a decade. With the broad energy bill now seen as the bigger prize, the group has put off Portman-Shaheen.

American Council for Energy-Efficient Policy Director Suzanne Watson concurred that the efficiency bill has been “superseded by this Congress,” and — like Callahan — added, “We’re thinking Shaheen-Portman would be a Plan B.”

From the view of efficiency hawks, the smaller bill is better. Unlike the big energy bill, Portman-Shaheen doesn’t contain a provision that would sideline furnace efficiency rules, it doesn’t repeal a requirement to phase out fossil fuel use in federal buildings, and it does encourage mortgage writers to place greater emphasis on home energy efficiency when pricing real estate.

These issues are likely to be addressed through the amendment process if and when the energy bill hits the Senate floor, which many analysts don’t expect to happen this year. For example, stakeholders are currently figuring out how to amend a provision that would hamper the Energy Department’s efforts to regulate home heating furnaces. Callahan said the alliance couldn’t support the broader energy bill until that issue has been resolved. Fights like these could erode the bigger bill’s bipartisan support, leaving Portman-Shaheen as the final alternative.

Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Republicans on the Senate energy committee, cautioned that the bigger energy bill is still the first priority for the committee. Not much should be made of the fact that Portman-Shaheen also got its own vote, he cautioned.

“We included the provisions in the broad energy bill,” Dillon said. “Portman wanted to pass out his bill as well… So that’s what we did.” Portman is a member of the energy committee. Shaheen served on the panel in the previous Congress.

Aides for Shaheen said she and Portman remain committed to pushing their own bill, regardless of what happens with the comprehensive energy package. A Portman aide also stated that the senator is “fully committed” to helping the broader energy bill pass the Senate.

ACEEE estimates that enacting the Portman-Shaheen bill would save consumers $16.2 billion per year, reduce carbon emissions equal to taking 22 million cars off the road and create 192,000 jobs by 2030.

Correction: This article has been corrected to state that Sens. Portman and Shaheen sit on the board of the Alliance to Save Energy.