Wide-Ranging Energy Bill Approved by Senate Committee

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By Ari Natter

July 30 — Broad energy legislation that would expedite the federal approval process for liquefied natural gas exports, among other things, was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee July 30, but the path forward remains unknown.

The committee approved the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 by a vote of 18-4, concluding a three-day markup.

The bill, which was drafted by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the committee’s chairman and ranking member, includes provisions that range from boosting cyber security protections for the electricity grid to measures designed to increase energy efficiency.

If enacted, the legislation would be the first broad energy law since 2007. Committee passage of the bill clears the way for it to be brought to the Senate floor.

No Commitment on Floor Action 

There is no commitment on a date to bring the bill to the full Senate. Murkowski told reporters the bill will need two things for successful floor action: a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for a sufficient amount of floor time and a fair amendment process.

The bill was shepherded through the committee without overly controversial elements and will be guided on the Senate floor with the same hope, to keep “poison pills” out of the legislation, Murkowski said.

During committee action, Murkowski and Cantwell talked fellow senators into refraining from filing many difficult amendments, and in other cases they convinced senators to withdraw troublesome amendments. In all, 94 amendments were filed in the committee.

Murkowski and Cantwell both acknowledged, however, that important and difficult issues could be raised on the floor.

Many Democrats view tax credits for such things as renewable energy as important, Cantwell said. “I think it's safe to say that you'll hear a lot about that” from Democrats, she said.

Natural Gas Approvals 

During the July 30 markup, the committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) that would expedite the federal process for approving natural gas pipelines.

The measure would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve or deny an application within one year of receiving a complete application that is ready to be processed. The agency then responsible must make a decision to approve or deny a project within 90 days of FERC's review.

The amendment, which was part of a larger package of amendments adopted by voice vote, encompasses legislation (S. 1210) previously introduced by Capito and supported by natural gas producers such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Apache Corp.

Energy Efficiency Bill Passed 

In addition, the committee voted to approve energy efficiency legislation (S. 720) by a 20-2 vote.

The bill from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) would authorize funding for measures to increase energy conservation in federal data centers, establish voluntary national model building codes and boost energy efficiency in the manufacturing and commercial sectors, among other things.

While most of the provisions in the Portman-Shaheen legislation were included in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, the committee moved forward with the stand-alone efficiency bill at the behest of Portman, who wants a backup plan if the broader energy legislation stalls, Kateri Callahan, president of the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy, told Bloomberg BNA.

Previous versions of the bill, which is backed by companies such as Dow Chemical Co. and National Grid, an international electricity and gas company based in the U.K. and northeastern U.S., have been brought to the Senate floor in the past but have stalled amid fights over amendments.

With assistance from Alan Kovski in Washington

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com