Senate Republicans to Unveil Energy Bill Soon
With the nation's attention squarely focused on energy, Senate
Republican leaders are expected to introduce comprehensive energy
legislation very soon to tackle the price and supply problems that
are gripping the country.
The measure, which Senate Republicans have been drafting for the
past two months, could be brought to the Senate floor in as little
as a week or two, said Andrew Lundquist, majority staff director
for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and head of
President Bush's transition team for the Department of Energy
There is a "big effort on the part of the leadership" to pass a
comprehensive energy bill during this session of Congress, he said
during a Natural Gas Roundtable luncheon in Washington D.C. last
Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Senate
Energy Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) are expected to
co-sponsor the bill. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is in the "initial
stages" of drafting a companion bill in the House, but it's not
likely to be unveiled for another month or two.
The centerpiece of the Senate Republicans' draft legislation
calls for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to be opened
to oil and natural gas exploration and production. But a Washington
gas lobbyist questioned whether ANWR would make the final cut. "I
don't know whether they [the Republicans] will fight real hard to
keep it in" if it faces too much opposition, he said, adding that
they may strip it out and make it a stand-alone measure.
Whatever the legislative vehicle, Lundquist believes the time is
ripe to get a bill through the Senate on ANWR. "We've done it
before," he said, but the president at the time refused to sign the
bill. There is a "different atmosphere out there" now towards ANWR.
Both President George W. Bush and Interior Secretary nominee Gale
Norton favor opening the refuge to drilling, he noted.
The Republican efforts to open ANWR will surely be met with some
opposition from Senate Democrats. Although there will be "a lot of
common ground" between the two sides, the gas lobbyist said the
Democrats will seek "greater emphasis" on renewable energy and will
The Republican draft bill does not specifically address the
power crisis in California, according to sources. That's because
leading Senate Republicans --- Murkowski, for instance --- are
opposed to any kind of federal aid to the ailing state. In fact,
Murkowski strongly objected to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham
issuing the emergency orders to extend gas and power sales to the
near-bankrupt utilities in California last week, the gas lobbyist
said. Sen. Gordon Smith, who represents the neighboring state of
Oregon, is said to be lobbying hard to stop the orders as well.
The measure won't deal with the issue of electricity
restructuring at all. In fact, Lundquist indicated this might be
placed on the back burner as a result of the ongoing turmoil in the
California power markets. "I think to some extent it [California]
will slow down the process" of restructuring, he said. Still, he
thinks the Bush administration remains "committed to deregulation."
In addition to ANWR, the draft legislation does promote greater
use of public lands for energy production, tax incentives for
producers mostly, more construction of pipelines, the streamlining
of the pipe certification process, and better coordination among
agencies involved in permitting of new pipelines. It also would
require federal agencies, which are considering taking action that
could adversely affect energy prices or supply, to first notify the
DOE secretary about the details of the proposed action and outline
ways to mitigate any harmful effects. The draft also addresses
nuclear energy issues and clean-coal technology, but it doesn't
contain any clean-air provisions.
Lundquist favors the Bush administration setting up a
multi-agency task force to deal squarely with energy issues.
Secretary Abraham raised the idea during his recent confirmation
hearing, he noted. The task force would include representatives
from a cross-section of federal agencies, such as the Environmental
Protection Agency, Treasury and Commerce. He believes this is the
only way for a national energy policy to be properly implemented.
He further said congressional Republicans were "very interested"
in the energy industry's plans to build a long-line natural gas
pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 states. "We're sort of seeking
out our role" to help bring about the pipeline project, which he
believes is "definitely viable now."
He conceded that Florida's mounting opposition to a proposed
lease sale in the eastern Gulf of Mexico was a "very, very
difficult situation," potentially pitting the state against the
federal government. Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother of President Bush,
has asked the Interior Department to cancel proposed lease Sale
181, which is scheduled for next December, because he is concerned
that exploration and production will hurt the state's tourism
The president "has been very supportive of states rights" on
such matters, Lundquist said. If President Bush should support his
brother on this issue, some may view it as tantamount to reneging
on his campaign promise to increase E&P activity in restricted
areas in the United States.
In other developments, FERC has been told by the Bush transition
team to expect replacements for the two vacant Commissioner spots
soon, according to Commissioner Linda Breathitt. "They told us it
was a high priority," she said last week.