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Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill

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As the U.S. presidential race dominates the media, it is easy to forget that both chambers of the U.S. Congress are currently in session. The U.S. Senate has put a major energy bill on the table, the first of its sort since 2007.

The 237-page bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) — S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 — includes provisions that would expedite the liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permitting process, heap subsidies on coal technology, and fund research geared toward discovering a way to tap into methane hydrate reserves.

As we saw with the lifting of the U.S. crude oil export ban, which was part of a broader congressional budget bill, a DeSmog investigation reveals that these provisions once existed as stand-alone bills pushed for by an army of fossil fuel industry lobbyists.

The list of lobbyists for S. 2012 is a who’s who of major fossil fuel corporations and their trade associations: BP, ExxonMobil, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, American Petroleum Institute, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Southern Company, Duke Energy and many other prominent LNG export companies.

An examination of particular provisions within the bill, and who lobbied for them, tells us much about how the legislative “sausage” is made inside the Beltway.

LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act

Found on page 171 of the bill, Section 2201 calls for U.S. government agencies to perform expedited LNG export permitting processes. More precisely, the language reads that “not later than 45 days after the conclusion of the review to site, construct, expand, or operate” an LNG export facility, the U.S. government should make a permitting decision.

Upon introduction of the bill, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) boasted in a press release that the sub-section is actually based on an earlier bill he co-sponsored with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). That is, the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act (H.R. 351), a bill lobbied for by the likes of ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, American Petroleum Institute, Berkshire Hathaway Energy and others.

“Our LNG exports provision will help grow Colorado’s natural gas sector,” Bennet said of the bill’s introduction. “And expediting the approval process for LNG exports will support Colorado jobs by helping natural gas producers in our state expand to new overseas markets.”

In his own press release on the provision’s introduction into the energy bill, Barrasso also pointed back to the original LNGPermitting Certainty and Transparency Act and said that U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) co-authored this particular provision. He also spoke favorably about the provision on the Senate floor on January 27.

Bennet, Barrasso and Heinrich all have received big sums of campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry throughout their congressional careers dating back to 1999: $307,636, $1,063,022, and $166,800 respectively, according to Oil Change International’s dirty energy money database.

Barrasso also has between $100,000-$250,000 invested in Berkshire Hathaway, one of the companies that lobbied for the bill.

Coal Technology Program

Section 3402 of the energy bill calls for the U.S. government to create a coal technology program “to ensure the continued use of the abundant, domestic coal resources of the United States through the development of technologies that will significantly improve the efficiency, effectiveness, costs, and environmental performance of coal use.”

To finance the program — which calls for constructing a large-scale pilot project that “represents the scale of technology development beyond laboratory development and bench scale testing” — the U.S. taxpayer would foot a $3 billion bill between 2017-2021. The provision also mandates the study of carbon capture and storage technology, euphemistically referred to as “clean coal” by its advocates, as a potential “transformational technology.”

“The term ‘transformational technology’ means a power generation technology that represents an entirely new way to convert energy that will enable a change in performance, efficiency, and cost of electricity as compared to the technology in existence on the date of enactment of this Act,” the bill reads.

The provision formerly existed as a stand-alone bill, S. 1283, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Manchin has taken$1,252,548 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry since 1999.

King Coal came out in droves to lobby for the bill, with the list of companies advocating for the bill including Peabody Energy, Duke Energy, Edison Electric Institute, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and others.

Methane Hydrates

Big Oil’s quest to develop methane hydrates may move one step closer to reality if the energy bill passes. Section 3101 calls for the creation of a five-year, $175 million methane hydrate research and development program.

Among other research activities, this will include “exploratory drilling, well testing, and production testing operations on permafrost and nonpermafrost gas hydrates” on Arctic land in the four years after the bill passes or “drilling of a test well and performing a long-term hydrate production test in a marine environment” for 10 years after the bill passes.

The sub-section was originally S. 1215, introduced by Murkowski in May 2015, and Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Duke Energy, Edison Electric and others all lobbied for the bill. Murkowski has taken $1,961,374 from the fossil fuel industry in campaign contributions since 1999.

Bipartisan Support, White House Caveat

It appears the bill has bipartisan support, receiving endorsements with varying levels of enthusiasm from the White House,U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

The White House endorsed most of the bill, but pointed out concerns with the LNG export portion which would “limit project reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.”

Reid showed more enthusiastic support for the bill than the White House in a January 27 address delivered on the Senate floor.

“The Senate works best when Democrats and Republicans, majority and minority, work together on behalf of the American people,” he stated. “As written, the…energy bill could win bipartisan approval on the Senate floor today.”

Amendments

Bill amendments are now being proposed, debated and voted for on the Senate floor.

An amendment receiving approval by the Senate in a mostly party-line vote (except for Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota) calls for expedited permitting for natural gas gathering lines in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fields located on Federal and Indian lands. That amendment dictates that gas gathering lines on federal and Indian lands are exempt from National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews.

Another amendment introduced by a bipartisan cadre of Senators and agreed to by voice vote in the Senate declares a “commitment to carbon capture utilization and storage research, development, and implementation.”

“It is the sense of the Senate that carbon capture, use, and storage deployment is an important part of the clean energy future and smart research and development investments of the United States; and critical to increasing the energy security of the United States; to reducing emissions; and to maintaining a diverse and reliable energy resource,” the amendment reads.

Some Democratic members of Congress attempted to take a proactive approach to curb the power of the fossil fuel industry.

For example, an amendment calling for those affiliated with the fossil fuel industry to disclose “dark money” campaign finance contributions got shot down by the Senate. So too did one calling for a phase-out of federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

In introducing the “dark money” amendment that eventually failed to pass, Whitehouse — who also introduced a “Sense of the Senate” amendment calling out the climate change denial machine —  delivered a statement encapsulating how the energy bill transformed into a Frankenstein.

“I believe fossil fuel money is polluting our democracy, just as their carbon emissions are polluting our atmosphere and oceans,” Whitehouse stated. “In a nutshell, we have been had by the fossil fuel industry, and it is time to wake up.”

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

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