The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to mark up nine separate bills Thursday, which could be merged into a larger energy and climate package that the Democratic leadership will bring to the floor later this month.

Three of the nine bills will hone in on the production of electric vehicles and infrastructure, while others will seek to promote nuclear and solar energy, establish an environmental laboratory park, and create a federal research and development program to improve the efficiency of natural gas turbines in combined-cycle and simple-cycle power generation systems.

Once the measures are marked up, they would become eligible to be included in the broader energy bill, which is expected to come to the Senate floor during the week of July 26, said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate energy panel.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is said to be piecing a number of smaller energy bills together. The underlying bill is expected to be the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) reform bill, which would overhaul regulation of the offshore industry. The Senate energy committee voted out the measure in late June (see Daily GPI, June 22).

Also likely to be included is a bill, passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), that would remove the existing $75 million cap on a producer's liability for economic damages from oil spills on the federal OCS.

The $75 million cap was initially to be substituted with a $10 billion limit, but an amendment offered by EPW Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) would totally remove the cap on a producer's economic liability.

Meanwhile, a discussion draft of Bingaman's climate proposal to cut emissions only in the utility industry has been making the rounds in Washington, DC. But he has no immediate plans to introduce the bill, Wicker said. "I don't think there's the 60 votes for cap-and-trade legislation" that would be needed to block a Republican filibuster, he noted.

"We see four primary buckets of energy priorities on deck in the Senate for consideration this month -- changes to the administration of oil and natural gas exploration; nonclimate energy-related provisions; greenhouse gas reductions potentially limited to the power generation sector; and energy taxes (oil and gas rescissions to pay for alternative energy programs)," said energy analyst Christine Tezak of Robert W. Baird & Co.

"At bottom we think that the 'oil spill' provisions and an energy tax package have the best change of success," she said. "If the House and Senate both move spill and tax legislation only, those bills could potentially be conferenced prior to the election and sent to the president for signature. However, a big broader bill...would likely not be conferenced before the elections; instead it would wait for a post-election lame duck session."

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