Published Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 10:17 a.m.
Updated Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 1:39 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s proposal to use federal eminent domain to establish green-power transmission lines was met with pushback today from senators who questioned giving the feds so much authority as well as requiring the lines to carry mostly renewable energy.
Reid testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the bill, which would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use eminent domain, if necessary, to develop transmission lines across the nation. Reid’s bill would use federal authority as a backstop if regional entities cannot develop plans to locate the lines.
“There will come a day when our children and grandchildren look back on this moment in history,” Reid testified, comparing it to past eras when the federal government stepped in to help build the railroads and the highway system.
The nation is sorely lacking in transmission line capacity to connect solar, wind and other renewable energy sources that are located in the Nevada desert and other remote regions to population centers. “The point of this legislation is to break the logjam,” Reid said.
But Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the panel, said she was “concerned about giving FERC a job that the states, working collaboratively, could do better.”
Murkowski and Sen. John McCain, the Republican from Arizona, also opposed limiting new lines to carrying mostly renewable energy sources.
“I notice by its absence nuclear power is not part of that,” said McCain, a longtime backer of nuclear energy and the waste dump at Yucca Mountain.
“We shouldn’t restrict access to our transmission lines to one form of energy over another,” Murkowski said.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon also expressed skepticism at giving the federal commission authority over state plans.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, has also drafted a transmission line bill. Reid said the two are “is just a beginning” of the discussion.
Reid’s legislation is expected to be rolled into a larger energy and climate change bill coming from the House.
The majority leader also sparked controversy when he said was willing to use upcoming votes in Congress on President Barack Obama’s budget as a vehicle to move the energy bill.
The budget process only requires a simple majority for passage, rather than the usual 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate.
“Certainly that’s an alternative,” Reid told reporters outside the committee. “I love 51 compared to 60.”
Murkowski shot back that she would “strongly disagree to an end-run around Congress” and encouraged Reid and Obama to work with dissenters.