The U.S. Senate put its partisan tendencies aside this week and passed a sweeping bill aimed at modernizing the U.S. energy sector. The bill includes provisions that could help the state’s ailing energy industry.
Major energy legislation hasn’t passed both chambers of Congress since 2007, so lawmakers in both parties were cheering this week after eighty five senators passed the energy bill. It seeks to modernize the nation’s energy grid, while also making buildings more energy efficient. But for Wyoming junior senator John Barrasso the highlight was inclusion of his provision to streamline the process for exporting Liquefied Natural Gas – or LNG.
“Well, it’s important for us to use Wyoming resources and there’s a need for these around the world. People want it, we have an abundance in Wyoming, so I think it’s really important to be able to sell it.”
The U.S. is now the world’s number one producer of oil and natural gas, which is why lawmakers are trying to boost exports. Barrasso says it was important to get language included that forces the executive branch to accept or reject new LNG export facilities within 45 days of getting an environmental assessment.
“The real problem is that, for something we have an abundance of and the ability to sell the administration has been extremely slow on providing permits to build the export terminals to sell that.”
Many environmental groups opposed the bill because it counts biomass as carbon neutral. And many Democratic senators supported it even though it was largely neutral on climate change. Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal says at least the bill won’t do much environmental harm.
“It is very much a baby step and needs to be followed by other strides in the right direction on energy and environment and the point is the two are compatible if they’re done the right way.”
Blumenthal supported the bill even though he disagrees with Barrasso’s push to expand natural gas exports.
“LNG looking forward has to be reassessed in light of the changing energy world, where it makes sense to be shipping the huge amounts of energy that are involved in the LNG industry and that has to be reassessed because the cost of doing it is very substantial. The cost, simply in energy of moving that amount of product.”
But Barrasso brushes aside those environmental critiques.
“I had a chance to meet with Prime Minister Abe in Japan. He wants Wyoming natural gas. After Fukushima and the shutdown of the nuclear power plants there, they have a significant shortage of energy. And they want what we have to offer in Wyoming and this bill is gonna allow us to sell it.”
Barrasso said LNG will also boost U.S. dominance in Europe.
“And we know that Russia holds foreign countries hostage, and just in terms of access to LNG, to energy. So we want to be able to participate there and undermine their ability to hold other people under domination.”
The energy bill also includes a provision to boost the workforce in the clean energy field, notably for those displaced from oil, gas and mining jobs. But West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin – a pro-coal Democrat – says even that doesn’t go far enough. He’d rather see U.S. tax dollars that are being held overseas come back to US soil boost manufacturing here.
“If we’re gonna train a person you better bring it—factory, bring something to attract some money and some capital investment to make something happen so we’re training for something that’s gonna be there for them. And we haven’t gotten to that step yet, we’re just trying to appease people by just throwing more money at it.”
Overall, Wyoming’s senior senator Mike Enzi said the energy bill is a win-win, though now he and other lawmakers are looking at what’s next.
“It’s a good start. There are a lot of things that need to be done because Wyoming is kind of in the doll room right now because oil, natural gas and coal are all down in price. And of course there is a war on coal and it has kept a lot of inventions from happening that could make things better. Because the people that were doing them said who would I sell them to?”
The Senate bill still needs to be melded with a House energy bill. While they’re similar some big differences still need to be negotiated, like on timelines for approving LNG facilities and what regulatory programs to keep or repeal. Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski will lead those negotiations as head of the energy committee, and she fears it may not be possible in an election year.
“Ya know, one of the concerns that I think that we have, or obstacles that we have in front of us, is time and the calendar. And the fact that, in order to have a conference, the House, and the Senate have to be in town at the same time. So, you look at the calendar going forward and we’ve got some work to do.”