Keystone Pipeline Dispute Muddles The Path Forward On Energy Bill

An energy efficiency bill has stalled in the Senate, primarily due to disagreement over the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The dispute leaves an otherwise popular bill in limbo.

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The fight over the Keystone XL oil pipeline has stalled progress on an unrelated bill in the U.S. Senate. Republicans want to attach a series of amendments, including approval for the pipeline to a bill about energy efficiency. But Democratic leader Harry Reid says the Keystone vote ought to be separate. And as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, the disagreement leaves the energy efficiency bill in limbo.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: It's been seven years since the last big energy bill passed through Congress and became law. This one is focused on reducing the amount of energy the country uses. Part of the legislation encourages states to adopt more efficient building codes. There's also new requirements and help for businesses and public agencies to reduce energy consumption. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire co-sponsored the bill.

She says saving energy helps the environment and the economy.

SENATOR JEANNE SHAHEEN: The cheapest energy is the energy we don't ever have to create and so if we can reduce our energy consumption, we can save money.

BRADY: The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates the legislation would save the country $100 million over a decade and a half. For the environment, the organization says the bill would have the same effect as taking 22 million cars off the road.

HAMPSHIRE: And the legislation does this without any mandates, without increasing the deficit.

BRADY: Shaheen's bill is not that controversial and appears to have plenty of support from Democrats and Republicans. There has been some criticism from conservative groups, including Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity. They don't see this as a federal matter. The groups highlight one provision aimed at mortgage lenders.

It would require banks issuing federal-backed loans to consider a home's utility bills when deciding how much to lend. While conservatives don't like that, companies that install solar panels do. Outside Philadelphia, Mark Bortman of Exact Solar is unpacking equipment to install panels on a house.

MARK BORTMAN: Very interested in what happens with this bill.

BRADY: Bortman says lenders already consider things like debt and property taxes when determining how large a mortgage someone can afford and he says solar panels on a house can reduce utility bills substantially.

BORTMAN: If your energy bill is lower, then that leaves you with more money that you could apply to the mortgage and so if the mortgage companies can see that, they might be able to adjust their ratios a little bit.

BRADY: And someone who chooses a house with solar panels could get approved to buy a more expensive house. But the energy efficiency bill has to pass the Senate first before it can become law and be implemented. Republicans, like Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, are holding firm, saying they want to add amendments on issues like the Keystone XL pipeline.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: And the idea that we can't have energy amendments on an energy bill should embarrass every single senator here and concern everybody we work for.

BRADY: But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also is holding firm. He says Republicans will get their Keystone XL vote, but only after this energy efficiency bill passes. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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