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Jan. 28 — The Senate voted Jan. 28 to block an amendment that would have limited an Obama administration plan to place more than 12 million acres of land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off limits to oil and gas development—the first significant vote by the upper chamber on opening the pristine wilderness to energy exploration in recent years.
While federal law prohibits oil and gas development in the 19 million acre refuge in Northern Alaska, the 50-48 vote shows that Republicans who have long-sought to open access to the area estimated to contain 7.7 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil still lack the votes to do so. The amendment needed 60 votes to be adopted.
Under the amendment by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), land designated as a wilderness study area by the Interior Department would revert to its prior designation if Congress doesn't make a decision on the designation within one year.
A plan by the Obama administration unveiled Jan. 25 to designate ANWR as a wilderness area automatically places it as a wilderness study area, thereby blocking oil and gas exploration, Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Murkowski, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Bloomberg BNA.
Under the president's plan, the Interior Department would designate ANWR as wilderness not only in its interior areas but also throughout its coastal plain, the area considered likely to contain large reserves of oil.
In an interview after the vote, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said Senate supporters would continue efforts in the 114th Congress to open ANWR to drilling.
He said the Murkowski amendment would have affected other wilderness study designation areas across the country in addition to ANWR.
“This is just the beginning,” Sullivan told Bloomberg BNA.
The measure was one of several amendments to Keystone XL pipeline legislation (S. 1) that the Senate voted on Jan. 28. The underlying bill would bypass the Obama administration to deem approved TransCanada Corp.'s $8 billion pipeline connecting heavy oil produced in Alberta, Canada, to refiners in Texas and has drawn a White House veto threat.
Other notable amendments included a measure by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to expedite the Energy Department's review of applications to export liquefied natural gas to non-free trade agreement countries.
The amendment, which failed by a vote of 53-45, would have required the Energy Department to expedite approval of any liquefied natural gas export application to any of the 159 members of the World Trade Organization.
While legislation to expedite the DOE's LNG application approval process is considered something the Senate is likely to pass in the 114th Congress, more tempered measures, such as a bill (S. 33) by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), have more support.
Barrasso's bill, which sets a timeline for the DOE to approve the applications, will be the subject of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Jan. 29. A House version of the bill (H.R. 351) was passed by the House Jan. 28.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) offered an amendment that they said would help schools learn more easily about federal programs and incentives to boost their energy efficiency. Collins said “schools are not taking full advantage of these programs,” and the Senate agreed: It adopted the measure by voice vote.
An amendment from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) would delist the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, notwithstanding a final rule doing precisely that from April 2014 (79 Fed. Reg. 19,974).
That measure failed 54 to 44.
Another measure from Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) would express the sense of the Senate that any designation of national monuments should be done after consultation with “each unit of local governments” within the proposed monument area and that the governor and legislature should approve the designation. It also failed 50 to 47.
The Senate defeated or tabled separate amendments from Democrats on the broader Keystone legislation.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) offered an amendment that expressed the sense of the Senate that production tax credits for a number of renewable energy sources, including the wind energy production tax credit, should be extended for five years through 2020 to provide surety to those alternative energy industries. It fell by a vote of 47 to 51.
Another amendment from Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) would have repealed current exemptions for the natural gas industry under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which the New York Democrat said would ensure protection of drinking water. It failed 35 to 63.
An amendment from Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) would have expressed the sense of the Senate that the federal government should beginning planning and preparing “for the inevitable consequences and impacts on our infrastructure” from climate change. It failed on a vote of 47 to 51.
The chamber also voted down an amendment from Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) that would have required the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to conduct a study on whether it has the resources to oversee pipelines in the Great Lakes region before Keystone could be “constructed, connected, operated or maintained.” The vote was 40 to 58.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, proposed an amendment that he said would include a “massive effort to expand solar energy in this country” by providing rebates for the purchase and installation of an additional 10 million systems by 2025. The Senate, though, voted the measure down on a 40 to 58 vote.
An amendment from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) failed by a vote of 37 to 61. The measure would have required an analysis of potential risks to drinking water along the pipeline’s route and would grant local property owners clearer authority to sue over any potential damages.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) came up short in his bid to require campaign finance disclosures from companies “that will make more than $1 million” from the pipeline.
Whitehouse said his amendment would bring “a little bit of disclosure, a little bit of transparency” to understanding which politicians benefited from the pipeline’s construction, but the Senate voted it down 44 to 52.
More amendment votes are expected Jan. 29. A cloture vote also is expected to occur the same day.
With assistance from Alan Kovski in Washington
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at email@example.com
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