Senate Debate on Energy Bill Resumes

Despite the blizzard that paralyzed Washington, DC, last week (we’re “paralyzed” by an inch of snow, so two to three feet triggered lots of chaos), the U. S. Senate began debate on S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act, aka the Bipartisan Energy bill. Floor action resumes later today and the Senate leadership has announced that it hopes to wrap up debate by Thursday.

One of the core elements of S. 2012 is Title II, which contains provisions drawn from S. 33, the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act, authored by Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and cosponsored by 16 other senators (including five other Democrats).

The key LNG provisions in S. 2012 are found in Sec. 2201 which imposes a new deadline on the Department of Energy (DOE) to act on applications to export LNG to nations without Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with the United States that include the national treatment of natural gas. (After a discussion of the amendments that have been filed to Sec. 2201, I will discuss why it is important to set deadlines on the DOE non-FTA review process.) Sec. 2201 would also expedite judicial review of any challenges to LNG export orders.

Proposed LNG Amendments

So far, three LNG amendments have been filed to the bill:

  • No. 3073 by Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Al Franken (D-MN). Would prohibit DOE from issuing LNG export licenses beyond a certain volume (not specified) in a new macroeconomic study required by the amendment.
  • No. 3087 by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Would strike Sec. 2201 in its entirety.
  • No. 3079 by Sen. Franken. Would permit DOE approval of LNG export applications only after “the Secretary makes a determination that the exportation of [such] natural gas will not cause an increase in the price of natural gas for American consumers.”

At this time, it is not clear if the sponsors will insist on votes on their amendments, all of which will be opposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and lead sponsor of S. 2012. (The bill’s other lead sponsor is Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) the committee’s Ranking Democratic Member).

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