Key US senators have reached a deal on a broad package of energy sector reforms that if enacted would speed decision-making on liquefied natural gas exports, focus the intent of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and require reviews of how federal rules impact electric system reliability.
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The agreement on the bipartisan legislative package follows a number of Senate hearings in recent months and lawmakers' consideration of more than 100 bills offered for inclusion in the wider package.
The bill unveiled Wednesday is also the result of negotiations between the two leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee -- Chairman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell of Washington -- and their staffs, and debate and voting -- a markup -- of the bill is scheduled to begin in the week starting July 27.
A major provision in the bill will speed decision-making on LNG exports by requiring the Department of Energy to approve or deny applications to export LNG to non-free trade agreement countries within 45 days of final action at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the Maritime Administration.
Currently, DOE quickly approves applications to FTA countries, and while DOE has as of late issued non-FTA approvals within days of FERC wrapping up its rehearing process, that has not always been the case.
The bill also provides for expedited review of legal challenges to LNG facilities, and would change the Natural Gas Act to require public disclosure of where exported LNG is headed.
SPR SALES PROVISIONS MAKE IT INTO BILL
The bill includes provisions that would reaffirm the limits of when oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is sold and how those funds can be used, which comes amid calls from other members of Congress to use SPR sales to fund health care reforms or transportation infrastructure. The allowable uses of funds from SPR sales include upgrades to SPR infrastructure.
On the electricity side, the bill would require regional transmission organizations to report to FERC on what capacity resources are available in their regions, the state of reliability, and whether their market rules enable a diverse generation fleet and the "availability of self-supply of electric capacity resources by public power entities," according to a summary.
The bill takes a number of steps designed to speed hydropower licensing, including putting FERC in the lead when it comes to coordination with other agencies and setting schedules to move permitting ahead.
Under the bill, the White House Council on Environmental Quality would be empowered to address disputes between agencies should they arise. The legislation also provides greater flexibility on the timeline for construction of projects beginning after permitting is concluded and how long applicants can have preliminary permits at FERC.
The bill does not include mandates to FERC or the RTOs to change their capacity markets or a controversial provision that would have given FERC backstop siting authority over certain transmission projects.
On the transmission front, though, the bill does codify an administration effort to address permitting delays and creates a post within CEQ to address delays as well.
When it comes to markets, the bill requires the Energy Information Administration to work with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission "to collect data on physical oil inventories owned by commodities traders and commercial oil and gas storage capacity," while also empowering EIA to establish an office focused on analyzing financial markets.
The bill also requires reports to FERC on how major federal rules impact reliability and mandates that federal agencies respond to that "reliability impact statement" as part of their final rules. In addition, the legislation includes a cavalcade of provisions to improve cybersecurity coordination and bolster electricity infrastructure.
A markup of the bill is expected to begin July 28, and aides expect that amendments will be offered from members that could alter the bill's contents.