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Energy Deal Paved by Promises for Flint, Drilling Measures

Senators who released their blockade of an energy policy bill were promised by leadership that there would be alternate vehicles for their legislative goals of federal assistance to address the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., and the overhaul of a program to share with states revenue from federal offshore drilling leases, lawmakers said Thursday.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said a measure that would provide federal financial support to help Flint fix its lead-tainted water system and address health problems that could last for decades, has “another path,” but she did not offer any specifics on what that entails.

“I want to make sure everything is locked down,” Stabenow said of the path. “We have another opportunity. Obviously, the people of Flint still cannot drink the water, and cannot function as a community. So, we’re certainly not stopping. We are choosing to take a different path.”

The most likely course for Flint aid may be through the appropriations process or as part of the Senate Environment and Public Work Committee’s latest Water Resources Development Act bill, which authorizes water projects.

“I can’t say because we are doing the WRDA bill right now and putting it together,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., the committee chairman. “If we can be a facilitator for the success by using our committee, we certainly wouldn’t rule that out. We just aren’t ready to make that announcement yet. This just happened last night.”

Inhofe said he did not have a preference on whether the Flint aid should go through a WRDA bill or the appropriations process, although he did say that “it needs to get done.”

Inhofe helped negotiate a compromise in February that would have allowed the energy bill (S 2012) to advance by setting up a separate vote on the Flint assistance measure after Stabenow, along with Gary Peters, D-Mich., were joined by other Democrats who said that without an amendment to aid Flint they would withhold the votes needed to move energy bill to the floor, effectively placing a hold on the measure.

That deal was blocked, however, by objections from Mike Lee, R-Utah, who opposed the financial commitment the federal government was making to what he said was Michigan’s problem, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who opposed a vote on an offshore oil revenue sharing amendment that would be included as part of the unanimous consent agreement to move the energy bill forward.

Nelson relinquished his hold on that consent agreement after lawmakers dropped the vote on the amendment. But the sponsor of that amendment, Bill Cassidy, R-La., said that in exchange for dropping it he was assured that overhaul would have another opportunity to advance from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“A commitment from the committee chair and the leader that we would be able to process it through the committee structure as a standalone bill, and then a commitment to hear it on the floor,” Cassidy said on what he received in exchange for his amendment. “It is going to be a date certain, but I can’t say how soon.”

Cassidy’s amendment would have expanded a law (PL 109-432) that sends a share of revenue from federal offshore oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico to Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The amendment would allow Alaska, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia to also share revenue from any drilling off their coasts, but it would not by itself open those areas to offshore drilling.

Florida was not mentioned in the amendment text, but Nelson said he feared the measure would increase pressure to allow drilling off the state’s coast.

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