A key House Natural Resource Committee aide gave fairly low odds on getting a broad energy policy bill done this Congress, and also sounded pessimistic about prospects for action this session on LNG export legislation, once a linchpin of that sweeping energy policy measure.
Speaking before the Natural Gas Roundtable in Washington Tuesday, Bill Cooper,staff director of the House Natural Resources Committee's energy and mineral resources subcommittee, also named some priorities for the next session.
Among them, he mentioned using the Congressional Review Act to reverse some regulations, including Bureau of Land Management rules on methane emissions, overturning a White House guidance on calculating greenhouse gas emissions in National Environmental Policy Act reviews, and working to streamline NEPA.
With this week and next appearing to be the remaining time on the legislative calendar, Cooper said "the chasm is pretty wide" over the broad energy bill, which is still under negotiation in a House-Senate conference.
"There have been several proposals and counterproposals, and counterproposals to the counterproposals that have been kicked around lately without a lot of traction or agreement on the big pieces. I'm not sure we can get there in the time we have left."
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He joked that, "I think there are some areas of agreement. I think we've agreed on a short title … definitions."
The legislation has been closely followed by the natural gas sector and LNG industry because of provisions that would set a deadline on Department of Energy decisions on exports to non-free trade agreement nations, once a final environmental report is released on a project.
'It is absolutely flabbergasting:' Cooper
Cooper, a former head of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, aired frustration that such provisions had dropped out of a recent version.
"Interestingly enough, what's not in play apparently is LNG exports. It absolutely is flabbergasting to think about. It may not make it in the energy conference. It may not find a home elsewhere either," he said. In spite of bipartisan support for the LNG export measure in the House and the Senate, "it's amazing it can't seem to find its way into law."
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, Republican-Alaska, and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, Democrat-Washington, said they had restored that provision in their latest counterproposal November 25 along with a provision to authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other provisions.
But an overall agreement was still elusive. Cooper noted that the Senate's latest pitch still contained the LCWF provision. "That is absolutely a show- stopper, and as long as that's in the bill, I know that my chairman won't sign the conference report," he said. Such issues as well as differences over funding levels could be solved, but "not in a hurry," he added.
Some may seek to wait until next Congress
In addition, with Donald Trump as the president-elect, and the GOP keeping control of the Senate, even if its margin has slimmed, he said, there may be a desire to wait and take up the legislation in the next Congress.
Cooper also mentioned the National Defense Authorization Act and the continuing resolution to keep the government running as potential vehicles for an LNG export bill, although he did not venture as to whether those would be viable vehicles or which might see the last ditch effort to push through the export bill. Of those three legislative paths, "it's a jump ball," he told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting. The measure doesn't add to the budget, noted.
One the other hand, Cooper said history could be made in the early part of the next Congress with more frequent use of Congressional Review Act resolutions to overturn regulations. That provision has only been used once so far to overturn a Clinton administration Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule on ergonomics.
But once again, he suggested time constraints and the need to set priorities would be an issue as there will be a litany of rules the Republican Congress would like to see overturned, even as a joint CRA resolution could tackle only one resolution at a time, with each resolution taking up to 10 hours of debate.
Among the rules he listed as candidates he'd like to see overturned are the BLM regulation on methane from oil and natural gas operations on federal and Indian lands, rules on drilling in the Arctic waters in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and the Council on Environmental Quality guidance advising federal agencies on calculating greenhouse gas emissions as part of NEPA reviews.
Cooper suggested the CEQ provision could qualify, despite its status as guidance, to be overturned under the CRA. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he suggested the Trump administration could address the provision administratively. If not, the committee was ready to take it up, he said.
"We believe we've seen incredible regulatory overreach and we need to right the scales," he said.
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