Language to speed up approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects could get left behind as lawmakers in the Senate and House conference try to rescue an energy reform bill before time runs out, a congressional staffer said Tuesday in Washington, DC.
Speaking at a Natural Gas Roundtable hosted by the American Gas Association, Bill Cooper, staff director for the House Committee on Natural Resources and the senior policy adviser on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), was not optimistic the energy reform bill would make it through the current Congress, leaving new energy policy to the incoming Trump administration.
Both the House and the Senate have passed energy reform bills and have been in conference to hammer out their differences to send something to the president’s desk. But there’s still a lot of disagreement over some of the more controversial issues, Cooper said.
The language on LNG exports, a major item that seemed to enjoy bipartisan support in both chambers as they passed their respective energy bills, has been inexplicably left out of the conference process, according to Cooper.
“Interestingly enough, what’s not in play, apparently, is LNG exports. It absolutely is flabbergasting to think about it. It may not make it into the energy report, or conference. It may not find a home elsewhere, either,” Cooper said. “It just goes to show you how things are in Congress, a bill that was filed in the House early in the start of the Congress...passed the House by 277 to 133, with 41 Democrats on board. Essentially the companion version with slight differences in language in the Senate was introduced...with six Democrats as the original co-sponsors. Now it’s amazing that it can’t seem to find its way into law yet.”
He added, “It’s one of those rare examples that a bill is in the Congress that hasn’t made it out of Congress that enjoys such broad support...I really wanted to see it move and still do, because I believe it’s great policy and has long-term benefits for the LNG industry. I just want to see it get a home.”
With the upcoming deadline to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government, there may not be any movement on energy reform before the next Congress, he said.
“There have been several proposals and counter-proposals and counter-proposals to the counter-proposals that got kicked around lately without a lot of traction or agreement on some of the big pieces,” Cooper said. “Not sure we can get there in the time that we have left. Typically speaking, when you’re coming up against a deadline like Dec. 9 on money for the government, and you have to pass some sort of continuing resolution, which appears to be what’s going to happen, when that’s done, they’re usually done.”
While Congress could decide to pass a package of less controversial items, such as energy efficiency and appliance standards, given “the election and the fact that Mr. Trump’s our new president-elect and the Senate’s still in GOP control, albeit by the small margin that it is, there may be a desire to wait and take it up in the next Congress.”
As for what else might happen in the energy space under the next Congress, Cooper said he would expect a lot of focus on attempting to undo certain federal rules using the Congressional Review Act. Within 60 working days of a federal agency notifying Congress of a new rule, lawmakers may pass a joint resolution of disapproval to invalidate that rule, according to Cooper.
Some possible targets for a resolution of disapproval might be the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) guidance on calculating greenhouse gas emissions or the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on methane from the oil and gas industry, among others, he said.
“So if you start thinking about the next Congress and the litany of regulations or rules where we’d like to see something happen, again it’s the age-old problem in Congress. It gets time-constrained,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the next Congress may try to streamline NEPA reviews.
“We will do something on NEPA, I think. NEPA’s in the jurisdiction of our committee, and NEPA certainly needs to be streamlined...I think without boxing ourselves in, I think we probably want to take a look at the CEQ guidance on greenhouse gas emissions as the first stop.
“The final guidance was completed a little while back. It’s hard for any applicant in a permit process to attack that except through the permitting agency, and we think it’s an opportunity for us to correct a lot of wrongs. That in and of itself should streamline the process. But we’ll take a look at the whole of the statute and see if there’s anything we can do.”
Changes to federal policy on management of western lands could also be on the way, at least if House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) has anything to say on it, Cooper said.
“I can say that it is the heartfelt desire of Mr. Bishop to see that dynamic changed and see those lands lined up in state hands,” he said. “And you’ll have a strong push in the upcoming Congress to try to achieve that. I just can’t predict the outcome. But we’re going to try.”