The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Wednesday completed work on broad energy legislation now known as the “American Clean Energy Leadership Act.” The Committee’s ACELA bill is headed for the Senate floor, though no time has been set for full Senate deliberation. The floor schedule will be up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who has stated his intent to combine energy and climate change legislation into one package later this year. The most likely scenario for full Senate action is late summer or fall.

The final ACELA bill, not yet posted or assigned a bill number, is the product of a painstaking Committee process. It incorporates pieces of 11 different bills, and involved 39 bipartisan staff briefings, 20 formal hearings, 11 open business meetings, and consideration and adoption of 100 amendments. Here is a link to the five-page table of contents for the bill, and here is a 10-page summary. As described by Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, the bill “will help shift our country to cleaner sources of energy, and more secure sources as well. The bipartisan, substantive and forward-looking approaches to energy found in this bill will move America toward the clean jobs and economic growth we need.” Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski was a bit less enthusiastic. She called the legislation the product of “a long and sometimes bumpy road” and said that “[w]hile I support this bill in its present form, we simply must do more to increase our domestic production and use of nuclear energy. I will continue to press for those provisions on the Senate floor.”  

The ACELA process and final product reflect the difficulty moving legislation in the Senate without bipartisan and geographically diverse support. As the New York Times reported “The Senate bill is a compromise between Democratic members seeking to reduce energy use and emissions linked to global warming and Republican members intent on increasing production of oil, gas and nuclear power. Republicans and Democrats who supported the bill said they hoped to strengthen it, each side to its own advantage, when it reaches the floor.”  

BNA’s Daily Report for Executives captured the general sentiment around the bill with this headline: “Senate Energy Approves Compromise Bill That Leaves All Sides Mostly Underwhelmed.” 115 DER A-6. There are, for once, plenty of open seats on the Acela.

The bill drew some warm words from the independent oil and gas industry, a carefully tailored comment from the American Petroleum Institute, tepid praise from an energy efficiency advocate, a pinched smile from a leading renewable energy trade association, a slam from Sierra Club leader Carl Pope, and even harsher criticism from the Union of Concerned Scientists, who said: "This bill's renewable standard is so pitiful that it wouldn't require any new renewable energy development beyond business as usual. Moreover, if any states adopted the loopholes and exemptions in this bill, it could reduce the amount of renewable energy development we expect under existing state policies…. Despite Senator Bingaman's best efforts, the chairman was forced to cripple this bill to get it out of committee. In its current form, it would do too much damage to deserve support.” Perhaps bearing in mind mother’s good advice, a number of organizations who rarely are at a loss for words, including NRDC, EDF and the Center for American Progress, issued no statements regarding the Senate bill. As to those on all sides who had hoped for more from the Committee, the situation reminded us of this great moment in cinema.