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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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Senate Sidesteps Key Issues In Latest Energy Bill

The U.S. Senate is hoping to move the first major energy legislation since 2007, avoiding a lot of controversial issues that could stand in the way of the bill becoming law.

Led by Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee released an energy package that covers a wide range of energy issues, while leaving out some of the most contentious for now. Sen. Murkowski worked closely with Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to craft the bill, known as the “Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015.”

“This bipartisan bill is the result of months of hard work – listening sessions, legislative hearings, and bipartisan negotiations,” Sen. Murkowski said in a statement. “Our bill features major provisions that will help us produce more of our world-class mineral base, harness more of our abundant energy resources, support our efforts to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and much more.” Related: Schlumberger Vs. Halliburton: Which Is The Better Buy Right Now?

Here’s a quick rundown of what it includes, which the committee put under five main categories.

1. Efficiency. Boosts energy efficiency in building codes, extends utility energy service contracts from 10 to 25 years, and reauthorizes a range of energy efficiency programs for buildings and appliances. On the one hand it removes a requirement that federal buildings phase out fossil fuels by 2030, but it would also codify an executive order that federal buildings reduce energy intensity 2.5 percent per year for the next decade.

2. Infrastructure. Gives the Secretary of Energy the authority to order any entity registered with an Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) to take action to guard against cyber threats. The bill would also require DOE to study and develop ways to enhance cybersecurity to protect the electric grid. Under this “infrastructure” section, the bill would also require DOE to study the role of the strategic petroleum reserve in national policy, and notify Congress ahead of any test sale. Moreover, DOE would have to move quicker on deciding on permits for LNG export terminals, with a 45-day deadline beginning after projects received FERC approval. Related: Here’s How To Play Low Oil Prices

3. Supply. Reauthorizes research into methane hydrates, requires DOE to produce a report on nuclear fission and fusion prototypes, and requires the Interior Department to assess the U.S.’ supply of critical minerals. The bill also pushes geothermal forward, directing agencies to study the best sites for new geothermal projects.

4. Accountability. Tightens requirements on federal loans and increases transparency. Reauthorizes ARPA-E, which conducts research into cutting edge energy technologies, and allows national labs to help carry out demonstration projects for early stage technologies. The bill also would require transmission organizations to study transmission grids and report to federal regulators on the state of reliability. Finally it would establish a single registry that inventories all federal land and property.

5. Conservation Reauthorization. Permanently reauthorizes land and water conservation fund, historic preservation fund, and also establishes a fund for national park maintenance.

All pretty uncontroversial. It also is arguably relatively small-bore, but these days it is only the small stuff that can pass muster in both parties. The top two senators scanned through more than 114 energy bills to see what they could both agree upon, and this is what made the cut into the final package. Related: Can A Carbon Tax Save Canada’s Oil Sands?

Perhaps the most controversial aspect is the inclusion of language that would require DOE to act on LNG export applications within 45 days. LNG exports have been a divisive issue in the past due to fears that allowing natural gas exports would raise domestic prices. But with the Obama administration largely in favor of exports (although not moving quickly enough for Republicans), and DOE having already approved several export projects, the issue has more or less subsided as a point of contention.

Notably, the bill leaves out the ban on oil exports, which Senator Murkowski has been pushing for quite a while. Due to some opposition among Democrats, Murkowski will push a repeal of the export ban in separate legislation.

Debate on the new energy bill could begin as soon as July 28.

By Nick Cunningham, Oilprice.com

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