Senate panel to continue energy bill work with focus on supply bills 

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 18, 2015

A Senate panel this week will continue its work on a comprehensive energy bill with a hearing to consider more than two dozen proposals to boost supplies from offshore oil wells, hydroelectric dams, geothermal deposits and most other sources of energy.

The proposals are competing for a spot in the energy bill that Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) hopes to have assembled by this summer, although not all of the 26 bills on the committee agenda will make the final cut.

The supply hearing will be the third of a series of four that Murkowski scheduled to consider energy bill proposals. Earlier this month, the panel considered efficiency and infrastructure proposals; after the Memorial Day recess, it will discuss government accountability.

Tomorrow’s hearing agenda runs the gamut from providing coastal states a share of offshore drilling revenue to creating a nationwide renewable energy standard. Hydropower, geothermal, biomass and coal are among the sources targeted by particular bills.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Murkowski offered a trio of bills last week to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Arctic, and split revenues between adjacent states and the federal government (E&E Daily, May 13).

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) introduced a suite of bills promoting carbon capture and sequestration and aiding a coal industry facing economic pressure from environmental regulations and cheap natural gas (E&E Daily, May 15).

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) led a coalition of Democrats in pushing a revamped renewable energy standard that would require utilities to provide 30 percent of their power from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2030 (E&ENews PM, May 12).

Along with the RES, several bills target specific sources of renewable energy, although sometimes taking different approaches to promoting it.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Murkowski and other bipartisan co-sponsors introduced a bill to allow the Interior Department to offer noncompetitive leases for parcels of private land adjacent to existing geothermal leases. Wyden also teamed with Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester on a broader proposal that would add a public-private grant program and encourage DOE to promote the use of geothermal heat pumps, along with the noncompetitive adjacent leasing, to promote geothermal technology.

Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and James Risch of Idaho introduced a separate bill taking aim at the National Environmental Policy Act as the cause of geothermal development delays; their bill would offer categorical exclusions to early-stage development activities.

Murkowski and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) were among those offering hydropower bills.

Murkowski’s bill would define hydropower as a source of renewable energy for federal agencies to comply with existing goals to use at least 7.5 percent renewable energy and would aim to streamline the licensing process. Gardner’s bill would reauthorize an expiring grant program that provides payments equivalent to the production tax credit to owners of existing dams who add power turbines to them.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is working on its own energy bill addressing similar themes of supply, infrastructure and efficiency. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will testify there on Thursday (see related story).

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, May 19, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.