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October 24, 2013

Shaheen-Portman: A Bipartisan Opportunity for Progress

It may seem like ages ago, but days before the government closed its doors, the Senate took up a bill that would save us a tremendous amount of money and energy while creating jobs across the country.

This bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competiveness Act of 2013 (S.1392 or Shaheen-Portman), has the type of bipartisan and stakeholder support that is increasingly rare. It's supported by an array of uncommon allies: everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Association of Manufacturers to the Sierra Club. And thanks to months and months of hard work by its two sponsors, New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman, it also became the first energy bill to be debated in six years.

So why did the Senate abandon it?

It’s a familiar story. While the bipartisan momentum behind the bill was building, one senator stood in the way and derailed the entire process simply to score a few political points. Shaheen-Portman was blocked by Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter. Vitter, it seems, just couldn’t help himself from offering a totally unrelated amendment pertaining to the Affordable Care Act, adding a partisan poison pill to one of the few bipartisan bills to hit the floor in years. To be clear, there was a whole suite of bad amendments that was offered to S.1392, and Senator Vitter’s amendment was just one of them. But ultimately it was this unrelated amendment that forced leadership to table the bill for the time being.

Right now, our nation faces a host of important problems. We elected Congress to deal with them, and they aren’t doing it. That’s why Americans’ approval rating of Congress has sunk to an all-time low, scrapping the bottom of the barrel at just 5 percent.  Be it the budget, the debt ceiling, or an important energy efficiency bill, Congress has to learn its lesson: There are no winners in holding solutions hostage over political agendas. It’s time for this nonsense to stop – and the Shaheen-Portman bill is a good place to start.

After 16 days of a government shutdown that cost our economy billions of dollars, put hard-working Americans out of a job, and shuttered some of our most important watchdog agencies, Congress finally worked together to end a manufactured crisis. It’s a fine start, but how about they work together to solve some real problems? This energy efficiency legislation is the perfect opportunity.

The diverse stakeholder support is there. Champions on both sides of the aisle are there. The chance for the Senate to prove they can still get something done is right in front of them. They shouldn’t miss this opportunity.

Senators Shaheen and Portman, the authors of this bill, have labored together across party lines for nearly four years on designing one of the world’s least controversial yet meaningful bills. It sailed through the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is ready to go. Key Republicans in the House like Ed Whitfield have announced they are ready to move the legislation. In light of the recent economic damage wrought by the shutdown, Shaheen-Portman can help us recoup some of these losses by spurring growth and job creation. All Congress has to do is leave controversial poison-pill amendments behind and vote.

--Radha Adhar, Sierra Club Associate Washington Representative

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