May 19 2011
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made visits to seven Senate offices Thursday to talk about possible bipartisan deals to boost oil and gas drilling, alternative fuels and efficiency measures.
The tour from the former Democratic senator from Colorado comes at a pivotal time as high gas prices heading into the summer driving season have kept pressure on lawmakers to act on efforts to ramp up domestic oil and gas drilling to reduce imports and advance plans to help wean the U.S. off of oil entirely.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out what the universe of possibilities are here and then figuring out whether there’s a way to get the bipartisan coalition so we don’t continue the paralysis of Washington,” Salazar told reporters after leaving a roughly 25-minute meeting with Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
Salazar said he talked to senators Thursday — including Majority Leader Harry Reid — about “three buckets which we believe we ought to be able to get bipartisan support for": production, alternative fuels and efficiency.
“So we’re just trying to figure out how we might be able to thread the needle together in order to get the kind of bipartisan coalition that would help move forward with energy legislation,” Salazar said.
Salazar says he is “cautiously optimistic” that some things can get done in the months ahead. “This place is sometimes surprising and you can find if you get enough senators to actually work in a bipartisan way you can get things done so as the agenda is not an agenda of simply saying no,” he said.
The Interior secretary also met with Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
Each of the seven senators had their particular interests.
Shaheen and Portman, for example, introduced legislation last week to enact a national strategy to boost energy efficiency technologies used by businesses, homeowners and consumers. This includes expanding the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program; helping states set up a revolving loan program to finance efficiency projects; enacting standards on outdoor lighting, residential heating and cooling systems and residential appliances; helping states with national model building codes for homes and commercial buildings; and requiring the federal government to adopt energy saving techniques for computers and smart meter technology.
Shaheen is honorary chairwoman of the Alliance to Save Energy — a position Pryor has held in the past. Pryor is currently an honorary vice chairman.
"All he really asked me was what I thought the chances were of us getting an energy bill done this year," said Pryor, of his roughly five-minute chat with Salazar during a quick break from chairing a hearing.
"I said we have a chance. With the budget hanging over our head and everybody trying to figure out this debt issue, I think that's taking all the oxygen out of the room right now,” Pryor added.
Salazar and Carper talked about offshore wind and setting up a national park in Delaware — which is the only state in the nation that does not have one. Delaware is one of four states that Interior has targeted as priority areas for offshore wind development.
The Interior Department also announced Thursday it would update a 2008 study of recoverable oil reserves in the U.S. portion of the Bakken Formation — which is located in Montana and Hoeven’s home state of North Dakota and could pay huge dividends to those states and domestic oil output. Hoeven reportedly had asked for the updated analysis — which the U.S. Geological Survey plans to begin in October and complete in about two years.
“But the common agenda and reason why I was here was to talk to them about energy and how we move forward on energy,” Salazar said. “There’s an appetite to do something and I think that it’s an appetite that you’ve seen in the last Congress and you see it here as well.”
Last Congress, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed out a bipartisan energy strategy and a bipartisan “gang” of about 20 senators also put together its own plan. But neither went anywhere in the full Senate —as some of the usual largely partisan disagreement s and election-cycle politics got in the way.
Reid would be the gatekeeper again for bringing up any bipartisan energy plans.
He has looked to the Energy Committee — which he said “with rare exceptions” produces bipartisan bills — to give him a slate of bills to bring to the floor. Reid told reporters earlier this month that the Senate is “way behind on where we should be on energy legislation.”