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Floor Debate of Senate Energy Bill Expected Next Week

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

Debate on the measure would begin as early as Monday or Tuesday. 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 the end of summer.

Under the announced timetable, the energy bill would reach the Senate floor before the Finance Committee has had a chance to approve the $11 billion in tax incentives, according to Congressional Quarterly Green Sheets. Sen Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate energy panel, which voted out the bill in late May, indicated that the Finance Committee would act on the tax provisions on June 16, the publication said.

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 last month, 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.

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 Daily GPI, May 27).

The House in late April approved a similar version of the energy bill, including numerous incentives for oil and gas production and transportation (see Daily GPI, April 22). 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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