Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota is holding back his legislation to fast-track the Energy Department's reviews of liquefied natural gas exports until next Congress in order to reach a deal with -- and gain the support of -- Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
Hoeven told reporters yesterday that he pulled his bill, the "Natural Gas Export Certainty Act of 2014," S. 2638, from today's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup, giving him time to calm Moniz's concerns with the measure while striking a balance with industry.
Hoeven also acknowledged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is unlikely to take up the bill during the lame-duck session.
"I talked to the secretary of Energy today; he has some things he'd like us to incorporate, and then he's willing to support the bill," Hoeven said. "If I can work something out on that, he'll endorse the bill. But it still has to be acceptable to industry, so I'm negotiating with the secretary and industry. If I get them both, then I think we'll pass it in the Congress, no problem."
Moniz is mainly concerned that, under Hoeven's bill, DOE wouldn't be able to review the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's environmental analysis of a proposed project under the National Environmental Policy Act, the senator said. "[Moniz] is worried about being able to see the [environmental impact statement] as part of making a national interest determination."
Hoeven's bill would have required DOE to make a decision within 45 days of a company's completing the pre-filing process at FERC, which the senator said can take up to six months. Such a mechanism, Hoeven said, would provide the industry with a "rational" path forward by ensuring that DOE, which makes a "subjective" decision about which projects are in the national interest, would move forward along a firm timeline.
"That's what we're trying to take out of the equation is this subjectivity, so we're not putting out huge dollars to get a permit, they go through the whole process only to get turned down," Hoeven said.
Hoeven is now trying to figure out how to ensure that DOE makes a decision within 45 days of a company's completing the pre-filing process at FERC, while also ensuring that DOE has time to review the environmental analysis of a proposed export project. Moniz said he needs that to make a public interest determination, Hoeven added.
"That's the bridge we've got to cross," he said.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is slated to take the Senate ENR Committee's helm next Congress, said Hoeven has been very engaged in the LNG export debate but acknowledged that there are a number of measures circulating to accelerate LNG exports.
"I think we're going to have good discussion about how we move our very valuable supplies of not only natural gas, but hopefully oil," Murkowski said.
Other LNG export measures jockeying for support on Capitol Hill include bills from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the current ENR chairwoman, who is fighting for her political life in a December runoff, and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who lost his re-election bid to Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). Gardner's LNG export bill that passed the House earlier this year would set a 30-day deadline for DOE to issue its national interest decision once FERC signs off on an export license.
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