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Senate Panel to Tackle Hot-Button Energy Issues After Recess

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee began its mark-up of a broad energy bill last Tuesday, focusing first on the less contentious issues -- such as energy efficiency -- and then moving to the meatier and more controversial issues following a two-week recess for Easter and Passover.

The mark-up "will probably go for several weeks after the recess," from which Congress returns on April 20, said Bill Wicker, spokesman for committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who is the chief author of the energy measure.

The committee last Tuesday marked up four smaller energy proposals, which will be part of the broader measure, that deal with appliance energy efficiency; manufacturing energy efficiency; energy and water efficiency; and energy innovation and workforce development.

When Congress returns from its break, the Senate energy panel plans to tackle the more hot-button issues involving the siting of electricity transmission facilities and a renewable electricity standard. Bingaman's draft legislation would revolutionize the siting of new power transmission lines in the United States, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission having siting and fast-track certificate authority for any high-priority transmission project of 345 kV or higher. And any delays could be appealed to the president.

A third mark-up session would address two proposed bills that would require the administrator of the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to develop a plan to collect information on the ownership of all commercially held oil and natural gas inventories in the country, and would give FERC cease-and-desist authority in natural gas and electricity markets (see NGI, March 30).

The EIA bill calls for the agency to develop a plan to collect the data on inventory ownership within 90 days of enactment of the bill, and to implement the plan 30 days later. It would require the EIA administrator to gather company-specific data on the volumes of product under ownership, and storage and transportation capacity (including owned and leased capacity). It also would require the collection of information from persons who hold or control energy futures contracts or energy swaps for commodities to be delivered in the United States, including the quantity of physical stocks owned; the amount of fixed-price purchase commitments open; the quantity of fixed-priced sales commitments open; physical storage capacity owned or leased; and other information deemed necessary.

To shield gas and electricity customers from "significant harm," the FERC bill would give the agency the authority to issue a temporary order requiring a company to cease and desist from violations or threatened violations of the Natural Gas Act, Natural Gas Policy Act or the Federal Power Act. Cease-and desist orders would generally be issued only after a hearing, but the proposal would allow FERC to serve a temporary order without a hearing.

A fourth mark-up would address the development of domestic oil and gas, coal, unconventional oil and clean energy on public lands, as well as expanding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and carbon capture and storage.

Bingaman and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate energy panel, agree that the "best path forward on energy legislation is to craft a single, stand-alone energy bill," a spokesman for Murkowski said.

Murkowski was irked when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) commented that the Senate energy panel was taking too long on energy legislation. "I'm committed to working on a comprehensive and bipartisan energy bill, but it takes time to negotiate controversial issues such as federal transmission siting authority and a renewable electricity mandate. These are substantive issues that will have major impacts on American families. We owe it to them to get it right the first time," she said.

"If a bipartisan energy bill is truly a priority for Democrats, then they should allow us the time to do it right."

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