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Despite Protester Disruptions, House Lawmakers Tout Progress on Natural Gas Issues

Four members of Congress assured the natural gas industry that they are working on a bipartisan basis to create comprehensive energy legislation, and appreciate recent input from some unusual quarters -- specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pope Francis. They did not, however, appreciate shouted comments by environmental activists repeatedly interrupting their presentation at the Natural Gas Roundtable session in Washington Thursday.

Current Legislation

Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) said an energy efficiency bill currently in the works would focus on several energy issues, including infrastructure, workforce, diplomacy and efficiency.

"[It will] give us some statutory certainty on how we can get pipeline crossings from Texas to Mexico, Mexico to Texas, or from Canada to the United States," Green told attendees at the roundtable, an event sponsored by the American Gas Association. "But we're also expanding on it, on how we can get some certainty on what we need to do. We want to make sure that the law fits what the need is."

Green said his caucus discussed liquefied natural gas exports recently with Christopher Smith, the assistant secretary for fossil energy at the Department of Energy (DOE). Permitting delays by the DOE and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have long raised the ire of the industry and its supporters in Congress.

"We're seeing some of those permits move through," Green said. "Our issue last year was with the DOE. We still have the FERC issue. I want to make sure we don't have [duplication], with two federal agencies checking the same boxes."

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) said he was "glad" to read a report released earlier this month by the EPA that concluded hydraulic fracturing poses no systemic impacts on drinking water, and used it as an opportunity to skewer New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who opposes the practice (see Daily GPI,June 4; Shale Daily,May 14).

The EPA report "fundamentally disagreed where our governor came down and said 'this issue is going to impact our groundwater, it's going to be too dangerous for us to go forward.' What the EPA did was come to a conclusion after an extensive study saying there is no systemic threat to our groundwater supply in America."

Reed added that as the House Ways and Means Committee modifies the tax code, "we're going to make sure that there are provisions in that code to make sure that energy development, hydrocarbon development as well as our alternatives and renewables, get a fair shake to be developed to supply the energy for today and tomorrow."

Where Congress Could Agree

Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) said it was essential that the nation adopt "an energy policy that is well thought out, that uses all of the energy tools in the energy toolbox, and that balances the long-term with the short-term, and ensures that we keep our eyes focused on the art of the possible.

"Too often folks come to Washington with their wish list. Having one's wish list is different from having what is possible."

Costa said he believes most of the energy issues garnering attention today were contained in the latest edition of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), a report the DOE released in April (see Daily GPIApril 21).

"I think our ability to move forward really is going to be in that document," Costa said. "I'm sure there are things in there that you don't like, but the fact is if we're going to be successful on legislation -- on a bipartisan  basis that can pass both houses and be signed by the Congress, and can move through the House Energy and Commerce Committee [and] the Senate Energy Committee -- we have to focus on the commonalities that we see in the QER."

Costa said he believed it was possible that the current Congress could reach agreement on ensuring the resilience, reliability and safety of energy, as well as securing energy transmission, storage, distribution and infrastructure. But he warned that significant changes to public land access and amendments to the Endangered Species Act were unlikely.

He also warned about the actions taken within the last year by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Clearly Putin and his activities -- as they relate to Ukraine, Crimea and Eastern Europe -- are unsettling to all of us," Costa said. "His willingness to use natural gas as a political way to leverage the countries of Eastern Europe is a real challenge to us today."

Interruptions by Environmentalists

At least half a dozen environmental activists interrupted the lawmakers, at times during their speeches and at other times during the customer question-and-answer sessions that followed. One activist had to be physically removed by two police officers. Another activist made mention of remarks by Pope Francis who, according to reports Thursday, warned that the planet faces an environmental catastrophe, and placed much of the blame on fossil fuels.

"I always try to not invoke my own personal religious beliefs when I'm dealing with public policy," Costa said. "But as a Catholic, I love Pope Francis. I applaud his efforts. He's a breath of fresh air [and] I'm pleased with his efforts to speak out in a way that is compassionate and with conviction. Having said that, I think a balanced approach can take place.

"Many of us are concerned about climate change. For those of you who may be naysayers here, let me just add the climate has been changing forever. This isn't new. The only debate is how much we're adding to it. I think that's an appropriate discussion to see how much we're contributing to climate change, and for that reason the Pope has raised the issue."

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) sounded like a naysayer of a different stripe.

"In terms of a comprehensive [energy] plan, I don't think it's going anywhere," Thompson said. "I'll be honest with you -- ever since the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank...the word 'comprehensive' in Congress is toxic. The word 'comprehensive' among my constituents is toxic. People want legislation that they're confident that their members can read and understand. Bills that go thousands and thousands of pages just don't fit that criterion.

"That's not to say we shouldn't move ahead. We need to move ahead with energy that's based on data and science. We need to make sure that we're good stewards of the environment, but that also means that we be good stewards of the natural resources that God has provided us."

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