Two of the top proponents of an omnibus energy bill in the Senate took aim at House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) Wednesday after his office reportedly declared that lawmakers had run out of time to reach a compromise on outstanding issues in the legislation.
According to reports, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Wednesday that conferees in the House and Senate "were not able to come to agreement on various outstanding issues in time for the House to consider a conference report." Last July, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress agreed to conference to try to reconcile the differences between two versions of the bill.
The announcement that the energy bill was essentially dead didn't sit well with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
"Despite some recent assertions that there are many items left to be sorted out, we have now resolved all but two issues for our conference report," Murkowski said Wednesday. "Both of those issues can easily be resolved, in plenty of time before congressional adjournment, if the will exists in the House to work through them in good faith. In fact, on both issues, the Senate has already written and proposed the modifications we know are necessary to reach final agreement, only to receive no substantive response."
Murkowski said a critical component of the Senate bill -- S 2012, also known as the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 -- addresses the issue of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. She said every offer the Senate has made to the House includes a provision for LNG exports, but the House has continued to remove it. Under a potential compromise, the LNG export provision would remain in the final bill in exchange for agreements on wildfire budgeting, timber management reforms and sportsmen's legislation, among other things.
"The House may want to claim that this bill cannot move forward because we are running out of time," Murkowski said. "The reality is that the House is attempting to run us out of time in order to prevent this bill from moving forward, even though it contains the priorities of dozens of its members. I urge my House colleagues to reconsider and to allow our conference report to come up for a vote before we adjourn."
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the committee's ranking member, also urged Ryan to reconsider.
"We should capitalize on these long and hard-fought agreements and should enact them before going home for the year and having to start over again in the next Congress," Cantwell said. "If we miss this opportunity now, we are not likely to have another one next year. Our House colleagues should be less concerned about going home this week and more concerned about giving communities the tools they need to deal with wildfire problems and other key issues."
The Senate passed S 2012 last April. The bill calls for, among other things, changes to the approval process for proposals to site, build, expand or operate LNG facilities. Specifically, under projects that require FERC or U.S. Maritime Administration approval, the secretary of the Department of Energy 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, in December 2015. The White House hinted it would 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.
Last month, Todd Wooten, senior energy counsel at the Senate Finance Committee, predicted Republicans would likely scuttle the energy bill despite bipartisan support. George Lowe, vice president for federal affairs at the American Gas Association, voiced similar doubts about the bill's prospects at a meeting with reporters last October.