Reps. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Dan Boren (D-OK) are laying the groundwork for a bipartisan Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, adding to recent activity aimed at making sure natural gas does not lose out in climate change legislation.

Murphy and Boren so far have recruited more than 20 House lawmakers to join the new caucus, which is expected to be formally launched later this month, said a spokesman knowledgeable about the caucus.

The caucus will seek to educate, promote awareness of and develop policy in Congress on the importance of natural gas in the nation’s energy portfolio, the lawmakers said.

The absence of natural gas provisions in the House climate legislation to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) was behind the decision to form the natural gas caucus, the spokesman said (see Daily GPI, Aug. 19). “As they [Murphy and Boren] were going through cap-and-trade, they noticed there was not much talk about natural gas.”

Other gas industry supporters also have been working on raising the flag for natural gas in recent weeks with the result that it did achieve a favorable mention in the Senate version of climate change legislation introduced last week by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-CA and John Kerry, D-MA (see Daily GPI, Oct. 1).

A provision in the bill which would establish a new Environmental Protection Agency program to provide financial incentives to power projects that reduce GHG emissions that are not otherwise eligible for tax credits is directed to increasing natural gas use in power production. But it is just a “natural gas placeholder” which the industry and producing state congressmen will work on expanding.

“Natural gas has more to contribute to a climate bill’s overall carbon-reduction potential,” said Rod Lowman, president of the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). The recently formed organization representing 28 of the leading North American independent producers has an agenda that includes a proposed “bridge fuel credit” to be added to the cap and trade program. The credit could be used like an allowance or offset for each metric ton reduction of GHG emissions attributable to the substitution of clean natural gas for another higher emissions intensity fossil fuel such as coal or diesel oil. The group also proposes modifying the availability of international offsets to make room for the bridge fuel credits. –

Congress also should address the questions about possible water pollution from hydraulic fracturing by calling for a national study. It also should adopt measures that would encourage the manufacture and purchase of natural gas vehicles and related infrastructure. One way of doing this would be to exempt natural gas vehicle use from the carbon cap. ANGA also is opposing any proposal to repeal the current treatment of intangible drilling costs (IDCs) under the Internal Revenue Code. –

A bipartisan group of nine senators, mainly from southwestern producing states, has sent a letter to the chief Senate sponsors of the climate legislation, espousing items favorable to natural gas similar to those on ANGA’s list (see Daily GPI, Sept. 29).

The Natural Gas Caucus currently being formed in the House is expected to be modeled after the Steel Caucus, which holds hearings during which industry members and experts testify. Murphy is co-chair of the Steel Caucus. And it has been noted that he represents Pennsylvania, a state that since the last half of the 20th Century has lined up more with consumer rather than producer interests, and with the coal industry.

“Western Pennsylvania is America’s energy capital and the world was literally built by Pittsburgh energy…Our region sits on top of a 250-year supply of coal, and we are also right in the heart of the of the Marcellus Shale find, one of the largest natural gas reserves in the country,” Murphy said.

“To grow our economy and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, we can use natural gas to heat our homes, fuel our cars and light our offices. But natural gas is not just a flame that heats the kettle on your stove — it is used in chemical production, manufacturing and transportation,” he said.

“Oklahomans have long known the benefits of natural gas as a domestically produced, clean energy source…I am honored to join Congressman Murphy and several other colleagues to form the Natural Gas Caucus in the U.S. House,” Boren said.

The various natural gas groups will have time to develop their strategy. Prospects for completed legislation this year are dim. On Friday, Carol Browner, White House environmental advisor, said she didn’t think the White House would have climate change legislation in hand before the international meeting on policy to address climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. And prospects aren’t that much better for action in 2010 since Congress is loathe to tackle large controversial issues in an election year.

Nevertheless, the work goes on, and analysts point out the value in getting established in the process, ready for a time when legislation does move forward.

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