Senate committee passes broad energy reform bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 30, 2015-The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed a broad energy reform bill today after three markup hearings on the legislation, marking the committee's first successful effort at energy reform in several years.

The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 covers several areas, including electric grid modernization and energy storage, as well as provisions regarding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Chairwomen Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, noted during a press conference that the bill “reflects so much input from members all over the country.” She added that it is “noteworthy” for so many diverging views-politically and geographically-to come together.

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Regarding the bill's fate on the Senate floor, she said: “I don't think we can predict wat the range of issues may be coming forward,” adding that she hopes to keep the same bipartisan momentum.

“The broad focus we chose to give this is important,” the chairwoman said. “We hadn't updated our energy polices in eight, plus years and it's just so past time.”

Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said that natural gas and oil export issues will likely be brought up during the full chamber debate.

She noted that the legislation “represents this committee's first attempt to craft broad, bipartisan energy legislation since 2009…Since our last energy bill in 2007, the U.S. energy landscape has changed dramatically.”

The bill passed with an 18-4 vote. Senators voting against the bill included: Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Minn.; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Committee leaders left out particularly contentious issues during the markup process in an effort to get the bill to the Senate floor.

The energy reform bill does not include any provision to lift the export ban on crude oil, but the committee voted separately on Murkowski's bill, the Offshore Production and Energizing National Security Act of 2015 (OPEN Act), which would authorize the export of all forms of crude oil and condensate produced in the United States. The legislation passed on party lines with a 12-10 vote.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, could not support Murkowski's OPEN Act like most of the Democrats on the panel, but added: “I can support it if it's modified to be more balanced in terms of long-term energy needs” to include credits for renewable energy production. “This is a very big change in American energy policy,” he added.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., was the only Democrat to offer support for the OPEN Act, noting that an amendment he included would allow the president to cut off oil exports in the event that they caused a price spike for American consumers. “This was a tough decision for me,” he said, but his amendment ensures “the American people this new policy won't hurt them at the gas pump.”

On the larger energy reform bill, Murkowski said senators submitted 94 amendments for consideration. They passed today a manager's package of five amendments as well as entered debate on a few others.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Minn., proposed a failed amendment that would have made it illegal to add additional ethane to liquefied natural gas (LNG) at export ports above the ethane levels required in interstate pipelines.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., compromised on a proposal that passed on voice vote to initiate a pilot program regarding federal drilling permits. The program allows the Secretary of Interior the discretion to tell regional Bureau of Land Management directors to waive federal drilling permits in situations where BLM has a minority mineral interest and no land interest.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. proposed two failed measures. One would provide a grant program for utilities and large building owners to install energy efficiency equipment. The other would allow the Department of Energy to coordinate stakeholders in the event of an energy supply crisis like the one that shut down four plants in Minnesota two winters ago.

Several senators withdrew amendments during earlier markup sessions that they plan to introduce on the Senate floor when the entire chamber considers the bill.

During today's hearing, the committee also passed on a bipartisan vote an energy efficiency bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. The senators also unanimously passed a package of public lands bills on a voice vote.

A House subcommittee approved its version of an energy reform bill last week. The full House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to consider the bill after the August recess.

 

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