Two former federal regulators appear confident that Congress will pass energy legislation this year, even though the 2012 election season is fast approaching — a time when most lawmakers shy away from contentious energy matters.

A lot of energy legislation has been enacted into law in election years, said Joseph T. Kelliher, executive vice president of federal regulatory affairs with NextEra Energy Inc. and former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), at a conference sponsored by Deloitte last Thursday. “I think it can be done because it has been done” in the past, he said.

Kelliher further noted that a lot of past energy laws have been sparked by concerns about high gasoline prices, which have been climbing over the past months and are hovering at around $4/gallon for regular gasoline in northern Virginia.

Both Kelliher and Suedeen Kelly, a partner with the Washington, DC-based law firm of Patton Boggs and former FERC commissioner, further believe that the good working relationship between Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the panel, will further boost the chances for legislation this year. They “work very well together.”

“Yes, there is a chance” for energy legislation this year, Kelly said. In his State of the Union address, President Obama “put energy back on the table.” And she was pleased that in defining “clean energy,” the president included natural gas.

“All [of] our energy resources have been put on the table…There’s an invitation there to do something with energy,” Kelly noted. She believes lawmakers, particularly Republicans and Tea Party candidates in the House when they go home, will want to show their voters that they took action to improve the economy and job situation. And energy legislation would help on both counts, Kelly said.

Bingaman’s committee plans to mark up two bills on Thursday — one (S 916) supports oil and natural gas development in the Outer Continental Shelf, and another (S 917) addresses offshore environmental and safety concerns. The GOP-controlled House passed three bills to expand natural gas and oil drilling in the U.S. offshore (see Daily GPI, May 13).

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