WASHINGTON, May 12, 2015 -- A Senate committee is gearing up to try to enact the first comprehensive energy bill since the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

However, as the price of moving a bill, leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plan to set aside the most controversial issues.

That means that lifting the oil export ban, a priority for the committee chairwoman, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and the Keystone XL pipeline won’t be in the legislation and neither will measures on a top priority for Democrats, climate change. The bill also won’t address the Renewable Fuel Standard, a regionally divisive issue that is under the purview of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, not the Energy panel. 

Instead, the Senate bill will have four main sections focused on energy efficiency; improving oil, natural gas and electricity infrastructure; boosting energy supplies; and overhauling government oversight, regulation and financial support.

“It’s not going to benefit me to try to move a measure that has no bipartisan support,” Murkowski said. “I actually want to make some changes to energy policy. We haven’t done it since 2007. It’s way past time. So my interest is to do as much cooperatively and collaboratively as we can.”

The committee held a hearing on energy efficiency April 30 and has scheduled a hearing Thursday on 22 bills that have been introduced by Murkowski and various committee members from both parties to address infrastructure issues.

One bill (S 441), introduced by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is aimed at authorizing new pipelines across federal lands to carry natural gas that would otherwise be vented or flared. A second bill (S 1210 ), cosponsored by Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., seeks to accelerate federal approvals for oil and gas production. A third bill (S 1245), sponsored by the committee’s ranking Democrat, Maria Cantwell of Washington, seeks to speed the deployment of advanced electrical grid technologies.

Additional hearings will be held May 19 on supply issues and June 4 on “government accountability and reform,” a catchall title for a broad collection of issues ranging from research to oversight and loan guarantees. The committee will mark up the legislation later in June or possibly July, a spokesman says.

As one measure of the energy legislation’s potential, an Energy Department official said at the April 30 hearing that higher energy efficiency standards could save consumers nearly $1.8 trillion by 2030.

It costs about $430 billion a year to heat and cool homes and commercial buildings, and that could be reduced by 20 to 50 percent through a variety of existing and emerging technologies, said Kathleen Hogan, DOE’s deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency. 

While the legislation won’t include a carbon tax or other sweeping measures that Democrats have long argued for to directly attack greenhouse gas levels, that doesn’t mean the legislation won’t have the effect of reducing carbon emissions through cutting energy usage, or bolstering some alternative energy sources, Murkowski said. “I don’t know how we’ve gotten into this box where unless it’s a discussion about carbon tax or cap and trade that’s the only thing that addresses climate,” she said.

Murkowski argues that the oil export ban will have to be ended through some other legislation to protect producers should sanctions be lifted on Iranian crude. “If we lift the sanctions on Iranian oil without lifting the ban on oil exports here it effectively acts as domestic sanctions on oil produced here,” she said.

As for the RFS, Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has already indicated he’s reluctant to touch that issue because of the support that biofuels have among Midwest senators. That means the Environmental Protection Agency will be left to continue to grapple with how to administer the RFS and the annual usage targets set in the 2007 law.




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