U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, thinks that the House's approach to the siting of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities, which gives states a significant role over the permitting and safety of LNG facilities, will ultimately prevail over the approach adopted in pending Senate energy legislation, which reinforces FERC's claim of exclusive jurisdiction over the siting of LNG import terminals.
Barton made his remarks last Thursday at a press briefing sponsored by Energy Daily as comprehensive energy legislation works its way through the U.S. Senate. The House passed a sweeping energy bill in late April. That bill clarified that FERC has preemptive authority over the siting of LNG terminals, but requires the Commission to "actively consult" with the states to consider state and local safety priorities.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved its energy bill just prior to the Memorial Day recess, and is expected to begin floor debate on the measure early this week. The Senate energy package includes language offered by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), giving FERC "exclusive jurisdiction" to approve or deny an application for LNG facilities located onshore or in state waters. A Capitol Hill staff member at the Energy Daily briefing said that the Senate version of the energy bill doesn't have the same state protections related to LNG siting as those included in the House bill.
Outgoing FERC Chairman Pat Wood has indicated that the agency prefers the Senate proposal. "The former chairman of the Public Utility Commission in Texas would say that the Senate FERC provision for [LNG] siting is stronger?," Barton asked in response to a reporter's question. "I seldom disagree with him, but on that one I would have to take umbrage in his description," the House lawmaker said.
Barton said that he would be "flexible" on the issue of LNG siting once the Senate and House versions of energy legislation are reconciled at a conference committee, which is contingent on the full Senate approving that chamber's energy bill.
"I would think the House is going to win on that one," Barton said. "I'll have to give Mr. Wood a call, and Mr. [Joseph] Kelliher and some of the others over there" at FERC. Kelliher is a FERC commissioner.
Another reporter quizzed Barton on whether he plans to insist that provisions related to opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling be included in any conference committee report.
The Senate energy bill, unlike the House measure, does not include a provision calling for oil and gas drilling in the ANWR.
"I'm going to insist that ANWR be done [with] whatever causes the least turmoil on the Senate side," Barton responded. "Whether it's in [budget] reconciliation or in the energy bill or the highway bill or whatever -- as long as it gets done. I'm indifferent to how it's done. Every indication I have is that it will be done."
Barton noted that ANWR "is in the budget that the Senate passed, so votes are there for it. It's really up to the Senate leadership to tell the House and the president how the best way to get it done in the Senate is." His guess is that ANWR won't wind up in the energy bill.
Meanwhile, Barton was quizzed on the topic of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). The House bill contains defective product liability protection for MTBE manufacturers, while the Senate's does not. If lawmakers from both chambers aren't able to iron out their differences on this issue, it could be the deathknell for the energy bill again.
"Our [MTBE] task force is very engaged and we have a deal to have a deal, but we're not ready to disclose the deal," he said.
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