US Senate leaders revive long-delayed energy bill

OREANDA-NEWS. April 15, 2016. Leaders in the US Senate have agreed to resume debate on an energy bill intended to speed reviews of LNG export applications, expedite natural gas pipeline permitting and expand energy efficiency programs.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) late yesterday scheduled floor votes on the energy bill, which stalled earlier this year after Democrats blocked the bill over an unrelated issue.

Republicans and Democrats reached a deal to schedule a final vote on the bill, which could occur as soon as today.

The move pushes Congress closer to making its first major change to energy policy since 2007, before the US shale drilling boom drove an 85pc jump in crude production and a 40pc rise in gas production. Proponents say the bill will help the US take advantage of those resources while also supporting efficiency and conservation.

The bill attempts to expedite the permitting of gas pipelines by giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more authority to set deadlines for environmental reviews. Pipeline companies have complained new projects have faced delays because of an uncertain permitting process.

The bill would require the US Energy Department to reach a decision on an application to export LNG within 45 days after environmental reviews are complete. Project developers could then ask a federal court to enforce that deadline, if the agency failed to act.

The bill would reaffirm a policy that crude from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) should be sold only to cope with supply shortages, improve energy security or maintain or preserve the reserve's facilities. But lawmakers have shrugged off that policy repeatedly. Congress last year authorized the US energy secretary to sell 124mn bl of crude from the SPR to raise revenue for infrastructure spending and to fund the government. Those sales are required to occur from 2017-2026.

The bill also would include a broad range of provisions intended to support energy efficiency and conservation, although many environmental groups say the bill does not do enough.

Senate leaders during six days of debate on the bill in February retained bipartisan support for the bill by avoiding votes on "poison pills" and environmental riders. More than 30 amendments made it onto the energy bill during the earlier debate, but most were non-controversial changes approved by unanimous voice votes.

But Democrats blocked the bill ahead of a final vote in an effort to secure a \\$600mn federal aid package to help remediate contaminated water systems in Flint, Michigan. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) has since dropped her hold on the bill after making progress negotiating a smaller aid package.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) had separately blocked the energy bill over concerns an amendment designed to share revenue with states near offshore activity would encourage drilling off his state. Nelson yesterday lifted his hold on the bill after securing a deal to remove that amendment.

If the Senate passes the bill, congressional leaders from both parties are expected to try to hammer out a compromise measure that would combine the Senate bill with a more partisan energy bill that Republicans in the US House of Representatives pushed through last year.

The White House threatened to veto that bill over contested provisions related to environmental reviews and energy efficiency program that did not make it into the Senate energy bill.