Leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee introduced a wide-ranging energy bill Wednesday that dodges touchy issues in hopes of securing passage later this year.
The deal brokered by committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the panel's top Democrat, is similar to the House Energy and Commerce Committee bill released late Monday. But it also contains some items that might rile liberal Democrats, such as imposing a deadline for approving liquefied natural gas exports and tweaks to a 50-year-old federal conservation program.
Getting the bill through the Senate without attracting controversial measures will prove challenging. The Senate hasn't passed a wide-ranging, substantive energy bill since 2007. Legislation approving the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, which the Senate passed in January, turned into an amendment vote-a-rama — it took more than three weeks to pass the bill, which President Obama then vetoed.
The Senate bill broadly addresses areas such as electric reliability, pipeline expansion and energy efficiency while avoiding areas sure to ignite partisan debate, such as climate change and whether to end a 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee will begin marking the bill up next week on Tuesday and Thursday.
Murkowski told reporters this week that the product "is not the bill I would have designed," a reference to parochial items she kept out of the bill to ensure it could garner bipartisan support. Notably absent is language that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in her state to oil and gas drilling.
Still, the Senate bill contains major differences than the House package that gives the upper chamber version more teeth and that could invite more backlash from Democrats.
The Senate bill would require the Energy Department to approve or deny applications to export liquefied natural gas to nations that lack a free-trade deal with the United States no later than 45 days after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the Maritime Administration finishes the environmental review for proposed export terminals. Republicans and some Democrats who support sending natural gas abroad have complained that the Energy Department has taken too long to authorize new exports.
Hydropower would be classified as a renewable energy source, opening it up for use in meeting federal renewable power goals and seeks to shorten licensing periods for new hydropower facilities.
The bill also proposes doubling the percentage of renewable power the federal government must purchase to 15 percent, up from 7.5 percent of its electricity.
The legislation also would scrap a requirement that federal facilities stop using fossil fuels by 2030. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee had pursued a similar provision, but ultimately dropped it because of Democratic opposition — though the House may take aim at the fossil fuel ban when the bill gets a full committee markup in September.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that expires in September, would get a permanent reauthorization. But it would establish a clear directive that at least 40 percent of the funds go directly to states. Conservatives said the payments to states had been slipping the past several years. But environmental groups and the Obama administration say those figures are misleading because much of the federal dollars are distributed to states through targeted grant programs.
Some of the bigger similarities between the two bills include: potentially replacing an Energy Department-proposed efficiency standard for furnaces, which the department estimates would cost consumers $12 billion; updating building energy codes to promote efficiency; giving the energy secretary authority to manage the bulk electric grid during a cybersecurity emergency; expediting transmission line permitting; and allowing power plants to violate environmental laws in times of an emergency, such as a major threat to electric reliability.