By Brian Dabbs
Nov. 23 — A new House energy package lacks regulatory changes to speed up the Energy Department’s approval of liquefied natural gas exports (LNG), a House Democratic staff member and lobbyist told Bloomberg BNA.
The proposal remains cloaked in secrecy since House energy negotiators offered the measure, a severely truncated version of sprawling energy bills passed by each chamber in recent months, to Senate counterparts late last week.
The House bill, which countered a revised Senate proposal delivered in October, is likely a blend of non-controversial provisions, such as those related to minor federal land transfers and infrastructure energy efficiency, the observers said.
Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have pushed hard to wrap up negotiations on the two energy packages before the end of this Congress, but House lawmakers, primarily Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), are signaling reluctance. Committee ranking member Representative Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) is also a key negotiator.
The House passed an amended version of the Senate bill (S. 2012) in May, melding that measure with some original House measures. The bills, both of which are nearly 800-pages long, touch on everything from vehicle efficiency innovation to critical mineral production.
Senate staff didn’t respond for comment, but the House staff member said Senate negotiators could be countering as early as Nov. 23.
All versions of the energy packages, prior to the House counter proposal, included revised Energy Department processing of natural gas exports. The Senate bill would require an approval or denial 45 days following review, while the latest House version extended that time frame to 90 days.
No staff members would point to the motivation for stripping the language in the House countermeasure, but Democrats generally view more gas exports warily. “Pallone has always opposed the LNG provisions and will continue to,” one of his spokesmen told Bloomberg BNA.
The traditional energy industry has fiercely supported the export provisions, and their absence likely weakens interest in the legislation, Christopher Guith, senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, told Bloomberg BNA.
“It’s a huge disappointment for us and others,” Guith said. “It was a huge priority for so many companies and groups that were very committed to that language.”
Guith said dropping the gas export provisions may indicate a “lack of confidence in negotiations.” Some lawmakers may now aim to tack those LNG provisions onto defense authorization legislation, as the House did with its version of that bill (H.R. 4909) in the spring.
Following a formal conference Nov. 17 between the negotiators, the day before House members delivered their proposal, Murkowski said the gas export language may be on the chopping block.
Land conveyance provisions, which transfer federal ownership to private parties, are included in both bills, and those provisions are likely candidates for a potential final compromise, the House staff member said.
Both bills, for instance, direct the Interior Department to transfer the title of Colorado’s Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest to the Gordman-Leverich Partnership. Conveyances for Colorado’s Arapaho National Forest are also in both measures.
Energy efficiency provisions may also be fertile ground for compromise, both observers said. Vehicle battery use, manufacturing innovation and green school retrofitting provisions are included in both bills, while the Senate version takes a far more aggressive approach toward strengthening building code efficiency.
After submitting the counter proposal on Nov. 18, Upton said that version is the best representation of “bipartisan consensus” in the chamber.
“We welcome any suggestions from the Senate and remain open to continuing to work with our Senate colleagues and concluding this conference in a productive manner,” he said in a statement.
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