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S. 2012: Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015

Apr 20, 2016 at 10:01 a.m. ET. On Passage of the Bill in the Senate.

This was a vote to pass S. 2012 (114th) in the Senate.

This week, the Senate began debate on the first major energy legislation to be considered since 2007. Introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill -- S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act -- received an unlikely overwhelming bipartisan vote when it passed out of committee 18-4 in September.

In addition, it has the rare accomplishment of being supported by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). This is seen by many as a possible indication of bipartisan support to come among the full Senate, especially after the bitterly partisan divide last year over another energy issue: whether to authorize construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

####What the bill would do

The New York Times wrote that the bill is somewhat watered down in order to achieve this bipartisan support: “It is chiefly focused on modernizing energy infrastructure and improving energy efficiency. It does not include language to drastically increase fossil fuel production, as most Republicans would like, nor does it boldly address climate change, as most Democrats want.”

So what would it do? The bill would create or improve several programs designed to increase energy efficiency in buildings, require significant upgrades to the electrical grid including large-scale storage systems for electricity, expedite liquid natural gas exports, loosen permitting rules for construction of natural gas pipelines on federal lands, provide subsidies for hydropower and geothermal, and permanently authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund

####What opponents say

While the support may be bipartisan, so is the opposition. The four senators to vote against the bill in committee were Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation writes, “The provisions are simply a continuation of government meddling in the energy economy and would waste taxpayer resources, override consumer preference, direct money toward politically preferred technologies, and appease special interests.”

Several environmental groups including the Sierra Club wrote in opposing the legislation, “Several provisions in this bill … we believe could cause detrimental effects to public health and our environment. For example, there is no need to exempt hydropower facilities from regulations that have worked for a century. Some provisions could also have unintended severe consequences for EPA public health protections. We are also troubled by the lack of clean energy investments made by a bill that claims to modernize our energy policy.”

####The Administration’s position

The White House has been cautiously supportive of the bill, but notes that it has some problems with it in its current form. “The administration has concerns with other parts of the legislation including provisions that would: generate budgetary scoring issues associated with energy savings contracts, which represent an important tool in advancing Federal sustainability; repeal existing Department of Energy programs that aim to improve efficiency at manufacturing facilities,” the White House wrote.

Still, says the bill’s lead sponsor Murkowski, “We know we're in a place where our [energy] policies have failed to keep up with changes in the market and advances in technology. This is long overdue."


All Votes R D I
Yea 88%
Nay 12%
Not Voting

Bill Passed. Simple Majority Required. Source:

The Yea votes represented 88% of the country’s population by apportioning each state’s population to its voting senators.

Ideology Vote Chart

Republican - Yea Democrat - Yea Republican - Nay
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Study Guide

How well do you understand this vote? Use this study guide to find out.

You can find answers to most of the questions below here on the vote page. For a guide to understanding the bill this vote was about, see here.

What was the procedure for this vote?

  1. What was this vote on?
  2. Not all votes are meant to pass legislation. In the Senate some votes are not about legislation at all, since the Senate must vote to confirm presidential nominations to certain federal positions.

    This vote is related to a bill. However, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it is about. Congress makes many decisions in the process of passing legislation, such as on the procedures for debating the bill, whether to change the bill before voting on passage, and even whether to vote on passage at all.

    You can learn more about the various motions used in Congress at If you aren’t sure what the Senate was voting on, try seeing if it’s on this list.

  3. What is the next step after this vote?
  4. Take a look at where this bill is in the legislative process. What might come next? Keep in mind what this specific vote was on, and the context of the bill. Will there be amendments? Will the other chamber of Congress vote on it, or let it die?

    For this question it may help to briefly examine the bill itself.

What is your analysis of this vote?

  1. What trends do you see in this vote?
  2. Members of Congress side together for many reasons beside being in the same political party, especially so for less prominent legislation or legislation specific to a certain region. What might have determined how the roll call came out in this case? Does it look like Members of Congress voted based on party, geography, or some other reason?

  3. How did your senators vote?
  4. There are two votes here that should be more important to you than all the others. These are the votes cast by your senators, which are meant to represent you and your community. Do you agree with how your senators voted? Why do you think they voted the way they did?

    If you don’t already know who your Members of Congress are you can find them by entering your address here.

  5. How much of the United States population is represented by the yeas?
  6. GovTrack displays the percentage of the United States population represented by the yeas on some Senate votes just under the vote totals. We do this to highlight how the people of the United States are represented in the Senate. Since each state has two senators, but state populations vary significantly, the individuals living in each state have different Senate representation. For example, California’s population of near 40 million is given the same number of senators as Wyoming’s population of about 600,000.

    Do the senators who voted yea represent a majority of the people of the United States? Does it matter?

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