ENERGY POLICY:

Senate committee looks to complete markup as floor battles await

After several delays, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plans to wrap up major energy legislation this week after dealing with final amendments, including a possible fight over natural gas rates that has pitted public utilities against pipeline companies.

The committee has slotted time tomorrow morning -- and Wednesday if needed -- to complete the bill containing a national renewable power mandate, a suite of energy conservation measures, expanded federal financing options for low-emissions energy projects and many other provisions.

On tap this week is Sen. Maria Cantwell's (D-Wash.) amendment that would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require refunds from natural gas pipeline companies if it finds rates have been excessive.

Cantwell originally included the refund measure in an amendment providing FERC "cease and desist" power to quickly halt suspected market manipulation and freeze assets. But last week, Cantwell split off the refund plan, and the committee approved the cease-and-desist measure separately. On Friday, some sources speculated that she divided the plans because the natural gas refund measure faces an uphill battle.

Public gas utilities and industrial gas users are backing the refund plan. They say pipeline companies should not be able to keep what FERC determines are overcharges, and that the measure would give FERC gas market power that is consistent with its existing Federal Power Act authority.

But pipeline companies say it is unfair and creates financial uncertainty that would prevent needed investment in new infrastructure.

Details were not available on most pending amendments Friday. Amendments still before the committee include Chairman Jeff Bingaman's (D-N.M.) plan to repeal some industry royalty waivers, called "royalty relief."

Other pending amendments include language from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on the Energy Department's Section 136 program, which provides financial aid for auto industry development of advanced technology vehicles and related components, while Republicans Richard Burr of North Carolina, John McCain of Arizona and Jeff Sessions of Alabama have amendments related to offshore energy development.

However, it was not clear Friday how many or which amendments would come up for votes, be accepted without debate, or be abandoned -- at least temporarily -- by their sponsors. The number of amendments drawn up by members has exceeded the number that have come up for votes.

Lawmakers frequently withdraw amendments, perhaps to hold their fire for floor battles, such as Sen. Mark Udall's (D-Colo.) plan adding new requirements for energy companies in split estates. These are cases in which oil-and-gas companies own rights to below-ground resources but do not own or control the land above.

Indeed, several floor fights probably await.

Environmentalists and allied lawmakers are seeking a more aggressive renewable electricity standard. They say the committee version -- which reaches 15 percent in 2021 but allows roughly a fourth to come from efficiency measures -- would not spur new projects beyond what would have occurred due to state-level programs and support in the recent stimulus law.

A coalition of labor and environmental groups called the Blue Green Alliance -- which includes the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers -- is releasing a report today touting the job creation benefits of a more aggressive renewables mandates. The alliance claims an RES of 25 percent by 2025 would generate more than 850,000 jobs, although this figure assumes that all renewable energy components are manufactured domestically.

Elsewhere, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is fighting a plan the committee approved 13-10 last week that would allow expanded oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico closer to that state's shores.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring a combined energy and climate package to the floor this fall. Last week, Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she hopes to mark up a cap-and-trade bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in early August.

Murkowski marine energy research bill makes the cut

The committee last week agreed to add ranking member Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) proposal to enhance Energy Department efforts to speed development and deployment of marine renewable energy sources, such as wave and tidal power.

Her amendment includes a "marine-based energy device verification program" to help bridge the gap between device design and development efforts to help with the commercialization of the nascent power source.

It would also authorize an "adaptive management" program in which DOE grants would help with the costs of evaluating the environmental effects of demonstration projects, gathering data needed when working in public waterways and other costs.

The amendment draws from legislation, S. 923, Murkowski introduced in April (E&ENews PM, April 29). It would authorize $250 million annually between fiscal 2010 and 2021.

Schedule: The markup is tomorrow at 10:15 a.m in 366 Dirksen. If necessary, it will resume Wednesday, June 17, at 9 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

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