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Analyst Doubts Congress Will Meet President's Aug. 1 Deadline for Energy Bill

A top energy analyst believes there's a 60% chance that Congress will pass an omnibus energy bill this year, although she doubts that lawmakers will meet President Bush's request for the measure to be delivered to him by Aug. 1 (HR 6).

"While success is not assured -- in fact some die-hard industry insiders are very pessimistic -- we currently think that there is a 60% chance that the bill will be enacted this year," said Christine Tezak of Stanford Washington Research Group in Washington, DC in an "Energy Policy Bulletin" Friday. "Our optimism is tempered by the fact that judicial nominations could yet derail the Senate's ability to move a conference report this fall."

Assuming House-Senate conferees are chosen quickly after the Senate acts on its omnibus energy bill Tuesday, "we do not think it's likely that a reconciled bill will be voted on by the House and Senate by President Bush's target date of Aug. 1," she noted.

Tezak said an "optimistic scenario" would have the conference on the energy bill wrapped up by the end of the August recess (Labor Day), to be followed by an up-or-down vote on the conference report by both houses sometime in September and signed by the president soon afterward.

Reconciling the House and Senate versions of the energy bill will be difficult, given that the two measures are "substantially different," she said. Some of the more contentious issues are likely to be the House's product liability protection for producers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), the Senate's provision on an inventory of oil and gas resources on the Outer Continental Shelf, the differences in the House-Senate bills' language on FERC's jurisdiction over the siting of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, and the Senate's requirement that utilities produce 10% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

A solution on the fractious MTBE issue may be at hand, according to Tezak. Reports were circulating late Thursday that Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, "was going to be able to pull the controversial, contentious defective product liability protections for MTBE off the energy bill and put them on the pending...transportation bill," she said.

The Senate "has no interest in providing defective product liability protection to manufacturers. Getting this contentious provision off the energy bill could help passage of the measure significantly."

As for the Senate provision calling for an OCS inventory, Tezak noted that "provision was opposed by the House last Congress and removed." It could face the same fate in this Congress.

Similarly, "the effort by some states to opt out of the [OCS] moratoria may not come to fruition either. The Senate is lukewarm to the concept, the House has enough coastal voting states to oppose changes in the OCS moratoria, but the White House is in favor of them," she said.

Tezak believes the current Senate and House bills do little to eliminate the uncertainty with respect to jurisdiction over LNG facilities. As a result, "We continue to think that the current legislation raises hurdles, not lowers them, for projects that have yet to apply for LNG onshore import facility licenses."

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