Long fight over energy bill ends with Senate passage

Ohio’s Rob Portman co-sponsored measure to mandate more energy efficient building codes.

Ending years of frustrating delays for Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire, the Senate Wednesday approved an energy bill that included a section they co-authored aimed at making new homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient.

The energy efficiency section was folded into the broader energy bill, which is supposed to modernize the country’s power systems and pipelines, and hasten federal approval of projects aimed at exporting liquefied natural gas to Europe.

The Senate approved the broader bill, 85-12, and sent it the House, which needs to pass it before President Barack Obama can sign it into law.

Lawmakers from both parties have been eager to pass the bill as a way to demonstrate to angry voters that Congress can deliver on key issues. Portman is in a tough re-election fight against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Because Shaheen is a Democrat and Portman a Republican, the bill gives the senator from Cincinnati a legislative victory to tout on the campaign trail.

“This is a big deal for me because it has been five years in the process,” Portman told Ohio reporters Tuesday on a conference call. “It’s an opportunity to boost economic growth in Ohio and also protect the environment.”

The section of the bill co-sponsored by Portman and Shaheen would work to strengthen building codes to make new homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient. It also would direct the federal government to encourage research and development of energy-efficient technologies.

Portman and Shaheen came close in 2013 to winning Senate approval of their measure. But it became embroiled in a testy Senate fight when some Republicans wanted to attach amendments that would have slashed federal subsidies for congressional staff members forced to buy individual health insurance through the federal exchanges created by the 2010 health-care law.

Earlier this year, passage of the broader energy measure was delayed again because Democrats such as Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio wanted to add millions of dollars to help Sebring, Ohio, and Flint, Mich., deal with higher levels of lead in the water. When Democrats dropped that demand, passage of the energy bill was assured.

“This bill promotes important priorities like upgrading our electrical grid, improving energy efficiency and extending programs that support Ohio’s state and local parks,” said Brown, who voted for the bill. “Unfortunately, the Senate missed a key opportunity to come together and support communities” such as Sebring and Flint.

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