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US Senate agrees to energy bill conference, timing unknown


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US Senate agrees to energy bill conference, timing unknown

TheU.S. Senate voted July 12 to send the chamber's sprawling energy bill to aformal bicameral conference committee amid signs that House lawmakers may dropsome contentious measures from the legislation.

The Senateagreed by voice vote to move to a conference on S. 2012, or the Energy PolicyModernization Act. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman LisaMurkowski, R-Alaska, said this marks the first time Congress will go toconference on major energy legislation in more than a decade. A formalconference gives Senate and House conferees the opportunity to work outdifferences over the legislation.

"Weneed to get this over the finish line," Murkowski said ahead of the vote.

Thewide-ranging billseeks to modernize the electric grid, speed permitting for LNG exports andanalyze whether RTO market rules meet criteria for wholesale electric prices,diversity of generation and the self-supply of electric capacity resources bypublic power entities. The Senate passed the bill by a large bipartisan marginin April, but the House voted in May to attach to S. 2012 its own and several other measuresthat the Obama administration previously threatened to veto. Those addedmeasures included some on California drought relief, energy development onNative American lands and forestry legislation that critics said would allow morelogging in national forests and on other public lands.

ButSenate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell,D-Wash., indicated that House lawmakers are open to dropping divisive parts ofthe bill. Cantwell said she met with House Energy and Commerce CommitteeChairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and House Natural Resources Committee ChairmanRob Bishop, R-Utah, on the subject.

"Theysaid they didn't want to waste time on things that are going to be vetoed bythe president of the United States," Cantwell said. "We took that asa good sign that they were willing to sit down and talk about legislation thatcould move forward in a positive fashion."

Thoseassurances were not enough to please environmental groups that are opposed toboth the recently added House provisions and parts of the underlying energylegislation, including the time limit for LNG export permitting and anamendment that would designate biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source.

"Wewill continue to make our case that no member of Congress should support a billthat fails to focus squarely on the need to tackle the climate crisis bypromoting clean energy and energy efficiency," Sierra Club LegislativeDirector Melinda Pierce said.

Houseand Senate leaders will decide the timing of the conference committee. TheSenate will break for recess on July 15, and Murkowski said the conferencecommittee will not meet until Congress returns in early September. She addedthat a resulting bill from the conference may not reach the floor until a lameduck session following the November elections.

TheSenate energy committee on July 12 named Senate conferees on the bill,including Murkowski and Cantwell. The other Senate conferees are Sens. BernieSanders, I-Vt.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; John Cornyn,R-Texas; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.