House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) signaled last night that he’s willing to keep negotiating with his Senate counterparts on the energy reform package, saying the two sides may be willing to bridge the divide on some outstanding issues before the end of the year.
"I’m still positive we can get something out of it," Bishop said, noting that he was referring to the items before the conference committee that fall in his panel’s jurisdiction. "It may have to be scaled down. On my half, there’s still areas that can be negotiated."
House and Senate negotiators are working on reconciling S. 2012 with the less bipartisan H.R. 8, including thorny natural resource provisions.
Several conferees yesterday suggested that House Republicans may want to punt the effort into the next Congress, when a President Donald Trump would likely sign legislation more in line with GOP policy preferences.
"We certainly don’t need to compromise anymore," conferee and former Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) told reporters. Trump’s win "lessens the need" for the energy bill, he argued.
"I’m not saying we should kill it, but if it doesn’t move, we’ll be in a much stronger position in the next Congress to move an energy bill that we like because we’ll have a Republican president," Barton said.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a senior member on Energy and Commerce and also a conferee, acknowledged the dilemma.
"Now you’re in this period of time where folks who wanted more are questioning whether you do this without getting a better bill in a Congress that’s in essence controlled by Republicans and a president who will sign the bill," he said yesterday.
‘So damned close’
But Bishop said lawmakers could let the conference process play out and delay a decision on only some issues until the 115th Congress.
"You can do both," he said. "Obviously the stuff that you can get out of a conference this time, you can get what you can get this conference and then go forward, start over again. That’s what you’re going to do regardless. So if we can get some kind of a deal this time, fine, let’s go for it."
Bishop said two contentious issues — drought and forest management — remained in play.
"We’re so damned close to it right now," he said of drought negotiations, saying time was of the essence given the coming winter. "If you’re not going to solve that it’s really a wasted opportunity."
Bishop’s somewhat upbeat tone on energy conference prospects follow what he described as a "positive" meeting with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in Utah last week.
"We talked about some of these issues," he said. "No promises, but it was positive. It was more positive than the meetings before we left."
Bishop added that, "Recognizing the problems she has with water in Washington, as well as with forest lands in Washington, that’s the reason why I think she would be receptive to what we’re trying to accomplish."
Rank-and-file conferees signaled a willingness to keep working, as well. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who is retiring, told E&E News yesterday she was unaware about the state of play with talks but hoped they would continue.
Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), who may chair the Energy and Power Subcommittee in the next Congress, called the conference "an uphill battle" but worth pursuing.
"We’re still working, want to get this thing done," he said in a brief interview.
Europeans press LNG provision
Also anxious to see efforts continue are ambassadors from Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic, which penned a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressing support for language in both the House and Senate bills to put a deadline on Energy Department liquefied natural gas export reviews.
"With LNG terminals now in operation in Swinoujscie, Poland, and Klaipeda, Lithuania — and the requisite interconnectors either in place or under development — our region has the capability to receive U.S. natural gas," they wrote.
"However, the regulatory path for granting the LNG export licenses to countries, which do not have free trade agreements with the U.S., remains complex," they said. "It puts burden on U.S. companies to apply for additional licenses. For this reason, legislative action to expedite LNG exports to America’s European allies remains a timely and significant issue.
"Thus we hope that the bipartisan effort, which has been gaining momentum steadily over the past few years, will see final resolution during the current session of Congress. We request you to continue working towards the goal of enacting LNG legislation still in 2016."