Reacting in part to recent House action on energy legislation, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has called on the chairmen of four committees to step up the pace and deliver new energy measures by July 14.

He has directed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Environment and Public Works Committee and Finance Committee, each of which has jurisdiction over energy-related legislation, to act quickly on a package of initiatives that has emerged from the Republican Energy Working Group, chaired by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA).

Some of the initiatives call for greater leasing in Lease Sale 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, as proposed by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM); the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas drilling; and increased focus on alternative energy fuels.

“There’s no significance to that [July 14] date,” said a Frist aide. A spokesman for one of the four committees countered that the July 14 timeline will be “impossible” to meet, given that the Senate does not return from its July Fourth break until July 10.

Frist wants the Senate committees to act quickly on energy-related measures because the Senate “was taking a lot of heat” for debating gay marriage and flag-burning initiatives, while the House passed noteworthy energy legislation last week — namely, a bill that would open up historically closed areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to oil and natural gas drilling, the committee spokesman said.

Frist has asked the committees to “pick up the pace a little bit” on energy legislation, he noted. “I think he’d like to see some action on energy” before Congress adjourns for the year.

While it’s “possible” for Congress to pass meaningful energy legislation this year, he noted that time is running short. Congress is out this week and will leave again for the entire month of August, returning after Labor Day. It then is expected to leave in October to campaign for the mid-term elections in November. The Senate has only eight legislative weeks remaining in this session, while the House has seven legislative weeks left, the spokesman said.

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