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Senate Agrees to Conference With House Lawmakers on Energy Bill

With time running out before the summer recess, the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday afternoon to conference with the House to reconcile differences between two versions of an omnibus energy bill.

The Senate agreed, in a voice vote, to conference with House lawmakers on S 2012, also known as the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015. Versions of the bill passed the Senate on an 85-12 vote in April (see Daily GPI, April 20), and the House by a 241-178 vote in May.

"I think that we should agree to conference with the House of Representatives," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said before the vote. "I know the conference process can produce a worthy bill that becomes law. I think it's fair that it will not include everything that is on the table right now. But anyone who has looked at what each chamber has passed knows that there is plenty out there that we can agree on."

The Senate bill calls for, among other things, changes to the approval process for proposals to site, build, expand or operate liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities. Specifically, under projects that require FERC or U.S. Maritime Administration approval, the secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) would be required to issue a final decision on any application to authorize LNG exports within 45 days of completion of the required review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

But the House countered with passage of HR 8, also known as the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015, last December (see Daily GPI, Dec. 3, 2015). The White House has hinted it will veto the House bill, in part because it contains a provision giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to set deadlines for other agencies that review projects proposed under the Natural Gas Act (see Daily GPI, Dec. 3, 2015).

"Even though the Senate worked out many of the issues, there are many thorny issues [with HR 8] that still need to be addressed," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the committee's ranking member, said before Tuesday's vote. "They are going to take some dialogue [to resolve].

"If we can reach a conclusion -- great. But if we can't, I think we've all decided that moving forward on the basis of energy policy that we can agree to is a very important concept for all of us."

Sens. Murkowski, Cantwell, John Barrasso (R-WY), Jim Risch (R-ID), Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) will meet with House lawmakers to discuss the energy bill. If the differences between the two bills are worked out and signed by the president, it would be the first time since 2007 that changes are made to the nation's Energy Policy Act.

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