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House to Consider LNG Permitting Bill; Senate Keeps Debating Keystone XL

The U.S. House of Representatives, by a 241-169 vote, agreed to consider a bill requiring the Department of Energy (DOE) to make decisions on certain applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) within 30 days, without specifying any additional details for the department to follow.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday continued to debate a bill to authorize construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, one day after Democrats were successful in postponing a final vote on the measure.

Five Democrats in the House joined 236 Republicans in supporting a resolution that would bring HR 351, also known as the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act, up for a final vote. The bill had arrived on the floor Monday after successfully passing muster of the House Rules Committee. The bill, which would affect LNG export applications to countries without free trade agreements (non-FTA) with the United States, was closed to amendments.

According to Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the bill's sponsor, since 2010 the DOE has issued final decisions on only five of 37 applications to export LNG to non-FTA countries.

"HR 351 will address this current backlog by ensuring applicants receive an answer from DOE within 30 days, only after the pending permit has received its necessary environmental and construction permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC]," Johnson testified during Monday's meeting of the Rules Committee.

"To be clear, this legislation does not allow applicants to skip the FERC process, nor does it allow them to bypass an environmental impact study under the National Environmental Policy Act. Furthermore, the legislation does not require DOE to approve the application once the company has received FERC approval. DOE will still have the authority to disapprove the application if they see fit."

Johnson added that a similar bill that passed the House last year, HR 6, did not attract a veto threat from President Obama (see Daily GPIJune 24, 2014). That leads him to believe that if his bill passes both houses of Congress a veto would not be forthcoming.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a similar bill requiring the DOE to issue final decisions on LNG export applications to non-FTA countries within 45 days of the time FERC or the U.S. Maritime Administration publishes related environmental reviews (see Daily GPIJan. 7). The bill also stipulates that if the DOE secretary fails to act with 45 days, or if a legal challenge is raised over a project, the permit applicant is allowed an expedited judicial review.

In the Senate, a motion to invoke cloture on the Keystone XL bill, S-1, failed by a 53-39 vote spearheaded by Democrats. Lawmakers began debating the bill again at 11 a.m. Tuesday and then again after a lunch break at 2:30 p.m. According to Senate records, there have so far been four amendments successfully attached to the bill.

On Tuesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced an amendment (No. 166) that would release, after one year, any lands proposed to be designated as wilderness but not approved by Congress. Her amendment was a reaction to the Obama administration's proposal to designate 12.28 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness (see Daily GPIJan. 26).

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