US lawmakers rethink energy policy priorities

It has been eight years since US lawmakers have attempted to craft comprehensive energy legislation. Past attempts have mandated widespread use of renewable fuels and extended Daylight Savings Time, among other things.

Now, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is attempting to stitch together a range of separate energy policy ideas into a common package. The committee has held three hearings so far, with one more set for 9 June. Its members have considered 70 separate bills that might be included in the package that committee chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) hopes to introduce later this summer. 

Murkowski told Argus that passing a broad energy policy bill was one of her top priorities, second only to passing a bill that would require the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the US Gulf coast.

The comprehensive law will have four major themes:  energy infrastructure, supply, efficiency and accountability.

Several of the bills aim to simplify the permitting process for natural gas and oil pipelines. Also among her bills are measures to direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide a clear definition of condensate and to notify Congress before conducting a test drawdown from the US’ Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).

At the hearing 19 May on energy infrastructure, the hot topic was efforts by coastal lawmakers to steer a share of revenues from drilling in offshore federal waters into state coffers. The committee weighed legislation that would share revenues from drilling in the Arctic, east coast and Gulf of Mexico.

Ranking committee member Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), warned that revenue sharing has derailed legislation in the past.

“[These] concepts have brought this committee to a stand-still on multiple occasions, given the mix of concerns – fiscal policy concerns, concerns from senators in interior states and concerns about the adequate recovery of receipts on certain existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico,” Cantwell said.

Not all those bills will be included in the comprehensive bill. Once all four hearings are complete, Murkowski’s office said she and senator Cantwell and other committee members will work together on presenting a bipartisan energy bill that can pass.

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