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Senate to Take Up Energy Bill on Tuesday

The Senate is expected to begin floor consideration of the omnibus energy bill early Tuesday, aides to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said.

The Senate leadership expects the debate to consume "at least two weeks," said Senate Energy Committee spokesman Bill Wicker. "We spent a lot of time in committee on the bill, so [the floor debate] shouldn't take quite as long" as it did in previous Congresses.

Wicker noted that the Senate debate on the energy bill in the 107th Congress lasted seven weeks, while consideration of the energy measure in the 108th Congress spanned three weeks over a four-month period. President Bush has said he wants an energy bill sent to the White House by Aug. 1.

The energy bill would reach the Senate floor before the Finance Committee has had a chance to approve a multi-billion tax incentive package, which could range anywhere from $8 billion to $20 billion, a committee aide said. The panel is likely to begin consideration of the tax package, which would be included in the sweeping energy bill, on Thursday.

Although there has been no agreement reached yet on the number or type of amendments that will be offered on the floor, it's expected that several controversial amendments will be proposed.

In order to get the bill out of committee in late May, the Senate energy panel put off some of the more contentious amendments for either floor debate or conference, including amendments that would allow states to opt out of the congressional moratorium on drilling in much of the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), permit 50-50 sharing of OCS revenues between the federal government and producing states with OCS production off of their coasts, block a provision in the bill that gives FERC exclusive authority over the siting of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, and call for an electric utility to use renewable sources to provide 10% of its electricity by 2020.

"I think there are some [Senate] members who are a little unsettled about the LNG siting provisions" in the energy bill, said Alex Flint, GOP staff director for the Senate energy panel. "By that, I mean [they] might not want to push it to a vote, but might like to negotiate some changes that we might be able to agree to on both sides on LNG siting."

The OCS "is clearly something where some members would like to create a mechanism to incentivize states to allow production on the OCS off of their shores," Flint said. He believes that Sens. Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate energy committee, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the ranking Democrat on the panel, "both agree we'd like to see increased production off of the OCS, but we can't agree on a mechanism that would make it work."

Flint believes that there will be "a lot of discussion" on OCS issues during the first week of debate on the Senate energy bill, "but I don't think anybody will pull the trigger on [an] amendment until the second week."

The bill voted out by the Senate energy panel provides incentives for all forms of energy, and promotes conservation, energy efficiency and electricity reliability; would remove roadblocks for natural gas transportation, LNG terminaling and storage; reinforces FERC's authority over the siting of LNG import terminals; promotes sharing of OCS revenues with states for coastal impact assistance; increases the civil and criminal penalty authority of FERC; prohibits market manipulation; and repeals the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (see NGI, May 30).

The House in late April approved a similar version of the energy bill, including numerous incentives for oil and gas production and transportation (see NGI, April 25). Two of the same sticking points in failed attempts to enact an energy bill in previous years remain to be resolved in conference. The House has approved drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Senate has not, and the House bill contains product liability protection for producers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, while the Senate's does not.

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