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Republican Senators Introduce Barrage of Energy Bills

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced 17 energy bills -- including measures to reauthorize the extraction of natural gas from methane hydrates, standardize the federal definition of condensate, and add de novo review to the Natural Gas Act -- ahead of hearings and a rollout of a comprehensive energy bill from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this summer.

Meanwhile, another Republican lawmaker, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), has introduced an 18th energy bill -- to modernize the approval process for new oil and natural gas pipelines.

Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the nation's energy landscape "has undergone a dramatic change since Congress last acted on comprehensive energy legislation. Our domestic energy supply has gone from scarce to abundant.

"Our energy renaissance underscores the need to modernize America's energy policies. These targeted bills are an important step toward ensuring economic growth and improving Americans' standard of living of living."

The committee said it would hold three legislative hearings over the next few weeks to discuss three policy areas -- accountability, infrastructure and supply -- as Murkowski and other committee members, including Democrats, put together a comprehensive energy bill (see Daily GPIFeb. 24).

The bills introduced Thursday by Murkowski include S 1215, which would reauthorize methane hydrates research and pave the way for a production test, within four years, on land owned by the state of Alaska in the Arctic. Another bill, S 1216, would clarify that under a civil penalty enacted by FERC pursuant to the Natural Gas Act, a defendant would have the right to a de novo review -- meaning a review from the beginning -- in U.S. District Court, rather than a review conducted by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A third bill, S 1224, would standardize the federal definition of condensate, while a fourth, S 1231, would give Congress greater oversight over the management of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and a fifth, S 1230, would instruct the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to coordinate with state oil and gas regulatory programs to create consistent rules and processes.

On Wednesday, Capito introduced S 1210, also known as the Oil and Gas Production and Distribution Reform Act. The bill calls for strengthening the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by having it coordinate the actions of all government agencies involved with the permitting of pipelines.

"West Virginia's Marcellus Region has the largest shale gas reserves in the United States," Capito said. "This rapid rise in production in the Marcellus region has been great for our economy but has outpaced our pipeline's capacity. This bill increases pipeline capacity, allowing the U.S. to fully take advantage of its vast natural gas reserves and limit any overload on existing pipelines."

S 1210 calls for, among other things, cooperation from every federal and state agency involved in a pipeline application; firm deadlines for the issuance of permits; concurrent reviews by state and federal agencies, in conjunction with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review; and an expedited process to allow an applicant to fund a third party contractor or FERC staff to assist in preparing and reviewing their application.

S 1210 is cosponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). It was read twice in the Senate on Wednesday before being referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which includes Capito and Cassidy as members.

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