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Voluminous Energy Bills Make Their Way Through House, Senate

After months of hearings, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday unveiled a lengthy, comprehensive energy bill that calls for, among other things, the expedited review of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and associated infrastructure, and for any related legal challenges to such exports.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Power Subcommittee on Wednesday rolled out its own extensive comprehensive energy bill, which includes provisions targeting FERC -- specifically faster permitting approvals and the installation of a compliance officer.

The Senate panel held its first hearing, on the issue of LNG exports, in January, and has held a steady stream of them since, culminating with the introduction of 17 energy bills in May (see Daily GPIMay 7Jan. 29). In a statement Wednesday, the committee said 114 bills on a wide array of energy topics had been introduced, and that "after weeks of negotiations, this bill represents the common ground that exists for modernizing our energy policies on efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and reauthorizing conservation programs."

Under the Senate bill -- also known as the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 -- the secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) would be required to issue a final decision on any application to export LNG to non-FTA countries within 45 days of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the Maritime Administration concluding their review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Senate bill would also give the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, or the circuit in which an LNG facility would be located, original and exclusive jurisdiction over any civil action brought by an LNG export applicant if the DOE secretary doesn't meet the deadline.

Other provisions would require public disclosure of LNG export destinations, and for the Energy Information Administration to collaborate with their counterparts in Canada and Mexico on improving the collection of cross-border energy data, and make periodic reports to Congress.

"Our energy renaissance has taken us from a position of energy scarcity to one of energy abundance, but current law rarely reflects that fact," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Senate committee. "After months of working together, the bipartisan legislation we introduced today marks a critical step toward the modernization of our federal energy policies.

"By focusing on areas where agreement was possible, we have assembled a robust bill with priorities from many senators that will promote our economic growth, national security, and global competitiveness."

The Senate committee will hold two hearings next week, on July 28 and 30, to markup the bill, after which it will advance to the full Senate for consideration. The bill's five sections address energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability and conservation reauthorization.

In the House, the Subcommittee on Energy and Power unanimously approved its comprehensive energy bill, which now advances to the full Energy and Commerce Committee with all of its provisions intact following a markup session on Wednesday.

The House bill calls for amending the Natural Gas Act, stipulating that a final decision on federal authorization -- such as for the construction of a natural gas pipeline -- is due within 90 days of FERC issuing its final environmental document, unless a schedule is otherwise established by federal law.

"To ensure that timely decisions are made and that the responsibilities of each federal and state agency are met when making a decision with respect to a federal authorization, the commission shall coordinate its efforts with federal and state agencies and make a recommendation on the scope of the environmental review that the commission determines to be appropriate," the House bill says.

If a federal or state agency doesn't complete a proceeding for an approval within the required schedule, the head of the relevant federal agency must notify Congress and FERC about the delay, and recommend a method to remedy the delay.

The House bill also calls for establishing within FERC an Office of Compliance Assistance and Public Participation, the director of which would make recommendations to the commission over the protection of consumers; market integrity and support for the development of responsible market behavior; and the impact of existing and proposed commission rules and orders on small entities.

According to the bill, FERC's new compliance officer would also ensure that "rates and charges for, or in connection with, the transmission or sale of electric energy subject to the jurisdiction of the commission shall be just and reasonable and not unduly discriminatory or preferential, and markets for such transmission and sale of electric energy are not impaired and consumers are not damaged."

Another provision of the House bill calls for giving the DOE secretary one year to develop a North American energy security plan.

"I am proud to say that this is the first attempt to put together a broad bipartisan energy package in nearly a decade," said Rep Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "While a lot of work remains to be done, I am pleased that today's draft starts on the right foot with broad bipartisan support.

"While it does not encompass the entire universe of issues on the table, staffs and members will continue discussions over the next several weeks in order to advance a broader package when we return in September."

Frank Macchiarola, executive vice president for government affairs at America's Natural Gas Alliance, said the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's efforts "are commendable as they seek to shape policies that better reflect our nation's changing energy landscape.

"In particular, we are pleased with the inclusion of legislation creating greater certainty and transparency in the LNG exports application process. This legislation will better enable the United States to leverage our abundant natural gas resources, secure greater energy diplomacy, and strengthen energy security while creating domestic economic opportunities."

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