Following a week during which both Democratic and Republican versions of oil and gas legislation were voted down in the Senate, the upper chamber will debate a four-year extension of the USA PATRIOT Act this week, and the House will return to vote on the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill.

On May 17, Democrats failed (52-48) to move to debate on their legislation (S. 940, the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act) to repeal $21 billion in tax preferences for the five largest oil companies. The next day, a procedural motion to move to debate on the Republican Offshore Production and Safety Act (S. 953), which largely mirrors a trio of pro-drilling measures passed recently by the House, fell on a vote of 42-57, well short of the 60-vote threshold set by mutual agreement. The two largely symbolic votes leave the Senate in a state of partisan gridlock over how to address gasoline prices.  

In the midst of the debate last week, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) expressed his frustration over the difficulty of moving legislation through Congress this session. With a packed committee schedule for the next several weeks, Senator Bingaman and his colleagues will consider numerous pieces of energy legislation, ranging from a Clean Energy Development Administration to hydrokinetic energy to a Clean Energy Standard to efficient vehicle technologies to carbon capture and sequestration and more. Also last week, former White House aide Joe Aldy and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called for the passage of a clean energy standard this Congress. The committee is currently analyzing over 300 responses to a white paper Senators Bingaman and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) published seeking input on how a clean energy standard should be crafted.  

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) said May 18 that he will soon meet with Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to consider what spill prevention measures or other lessons from last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill might be included in a package of energy legislation along with measures to promote domestic energy production.