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Open Spaces

Congress Is Hoping To Debate An Energy Bill

Stephanie Joyce

Congress hasn’t passed an energy bill since 2007, but a bill is winding its way through Congress that has the chance of becoming law.

Earlier this year a bipartisan coalition sent Keystone XL Pipeline legislation to President Obama’s desk only to have it vetoed and the President has continued his battle against climate change. But some are still hopeful that a bipartisan energy bill could still pass. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis said that she believes targeted legislation might become law and that’s what a bipartisan group has come up with. 

“It’s less than 100 pages so it is not compressive and maybe they just chose while were still trying to get legislation done before the presidential campaign sucks all the oxygen out of the room. It might be good to get some of these areas of agreements off the table.”

Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi agreed that may not be a bad thing.

“Well, I’d certainly like to see us do something positive for energy. I’m not a big fan of “comprehensive,” that usually means so big that it’s incomprehensible.”

Before lawmakers left Washington for a month-long break the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed its version of the bill, which Wyoming Senator John Barrasso is praising.

“This is the largest bipartisan energy bill that’s passed the Senate in a long time. The vote was actually 18-4; with two Democrats against it and with two Republicans against it. So it is very focused on energy. There’s a clean energy component in it; my whole section on liquefied natural gas – to be able to export that – that’s big for Wyoming.”

The bill includes half a billion dollars to study and modernize the electric grid. It repeals a ban on using fossil fuels in federal buildings and it would permanently extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But the biggest win for Barrasso – and Wyoming’s fossil fuel industry – is that it includes his bill to expedite the Department of Energy’s decision-making process for Liquefied Natural Gas exports.

This is the largest bipartisan energy bill that's passed the Senate in a long time... There's a clean energy component in it; my whole section on liquefied natural gas, to be able to export that, that's big for Wyoming.

  “So I think on balance people understand that we have this valuable energy resource. It’s a part of the economic stability of our nation and it’s important that we use it and it doesn’t become a stranded asset. We have friends overseas who want it. You know we talk about raising tax revenue, this is a wonderful opportunity: you’ve got more people working and more energy available for sale. That helps the state.”

Environmentalists aren’t happy Barrasso’s bill though. Kate DeAngelis works on climate issues with Friends of the Earth. 

“Liquefied Natural Gas is hugely energy intensive, which means that it’s terrible for the climate. Research shows that it’s worse for the climate than coal and it’s not a form of energy that we should be encouraging in any way shape or form.”   

The environmental community is also upset the legislation would streamline the environmental review process in the event of an emergency or a war that threatens the electrical grid. All told, DeAngelis says the bill sends the wrong signal.

“It says that this Congress and that our government isn’t serious about addressing climate change and we’re not serious about making that transition and therefore it doesn’t encourage utilities and businesses to be making that shift. And then to be encouraging such a dirty fossil fuel like LNG is a huge step backwards.”

While Congresswoman Lummis supports Barrasso’s LNG bill, she said that more is needed because the nation doesn’t have the infrastructure to ship more gas.

“But it what it doesn’t have is expediting more LNG exporting facilities which would be a big benefit.”

Lummis also bemoaned that other bipartisan proposals didn’t make the cut in this narrow energy bill.

“There are simple things that could be in it such as a bill that had bi-partisan support in the Natural Resources Committee that would allow utilities to protect their power lines when they cross federal lands by allowing the cutting of dead or dying trees that could fall on the power lines. So there are things like that that could be easily added.”

Even Senator Barrasso would have like to see more pro fossil fuel provisions in the bill, like the Keystone Pipeline.

“I think it’s important and it may come up for debate on the Senate floor.”

For now a large bipartisan coalition is behind the energy proposal winding through Congress, but as Lummis suggested recently, the more lawmakers try to heap on their pet projects, the less chance the bill has of making it to the president’s desk. 

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