Between campaign speeches, budget debates, and transportation reauthorization negotiations, energy issues played a key role on the national stage last week. The Senate will take up the farm bill and its contentious energy provisions this week, and the House will consider legislation (H.R. 4480) linking the use of the strategic petroleum reserve to more oil and gas drilling on federal land.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the transportation reauthorization conference committee, said June 12 that the House and Senate have gone back and forth on about 75% of the bill language, as each side continues to volley piecemeal offers on the measure. Though Senator Boxer and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) continue to point fingers as to whom is responsible for the seemingly slow movement toward agreement before the June 30 deadline, the real sticking point continues to be the Keystone XL pipeline. House Republicans insist that it must be part of the infrastructure package, as it is included in their version of the legislation, while Senate Democrats contend that there are not 60 votes in their chamber to approve the controversial pipeline. Final negotiation of this issue is not likely until all, or nearly all, other pieces are agreed upon.

Senate leaders continue to search for a way to move the farm bill (S. 3240) forward without drowning it in the nearly 300 amendments already submitted, as Republicans are making it clear that up to $800 million in mandatory spending will be targeted, particularly energy provisions like incentives for biofuels and other renewable energy. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) submitted amendments eliminating the Department of Agriculture’s biofuels and renewable energy programs as well as all farm bill loan guarantees, and repealing the Renewable Fuel Standard. Some Republican senators took a more targeted approach, like Senator Mike Lee’s (R-UT) amendment eliminating the USDA’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program, or Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) amendment eliminating the USDA’s Biorefinery Assistance Program. Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) amendment axed any spending on renewable fuel infrastructure.

Speaking about the economy from Ohio June 15, President Obama devoted some of his hour to call on Congress to eliminate tax breaks for big oil companies, pass a Clean Energy Standard, and invest in research and development.

Later this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a delegation to the Rio+20 climate conference including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley, and officials from the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. The event, officially the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, runs from June 20-22 and comes 20 years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Analysts remain skeptical that a comprehensive agreement will result from the conference.