House panel votes to boost security at energy sites, Senate to act soon

Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 3 -- The US House Committee on Resources Wednesday approved legislation to improve security at federal dams, power stations, and electric transmission lines.

The committee approved bills H.R. 2925 and H.R. 2924 and sent them to the House floor. The Senate Committee on Energy and Resources will act next week on similar energy and water legislation. The Senate committee wants to include security language that applies to the oil industry as well.

The House and Senate are expected to agree on energy and water security legislation by the end of the month. The final measure will include input from the Energy Department, the Interior Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency and likely will include protection for critical oil, gas, and electric infrastructures.

In Wednesday's House committee action, H.R. 2925 allows the Bureau of Reclamation to contract with local, state, tribal, and federal agencies to provide trained and certified law enforcement security at federal dams and other reclamation sites. Current law does not allow the bureau to either hire its own law enforcement personnel or contract for them.

H.R. 2924 authorizes the Western Power Administration, the Southwestern Power Administration, and the Southeastern Power Administration to offer rewards up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons who vandalize substations, power lines, etc.

Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen (R-Utah) said, "H.R. 2925 allows the Bureau of Reclamation to better plan and implement security for 348 reservoirs and 58 hydroelectric power plants that provide critical water and power to some of the most populous regions of the country.

"H.R. 2924 authorizes power administrations around the country to better protect 16,000 miles of federal transmission lines and 258 substations."

Senate action
The US Senate energy committee plans to amend a similar bill with language to also protect oil refineries, pipelines, and other installations.

Senators will consider recommendations from the departments of Energy and Interior. Proposals to expand the 544 million bbl Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the 2 million bbl Northeast heating oil reserve are also on the table. Expanding the SPR has bipartisan support (OGJ Online, Oct. 1, 2001).

The Senate energy panel plans a hearing Oct. 9 on energy security, followed by a markup the next day. Lawmakers expect the full Senate to pass the bipartisan legislation before the end of the month, possibly as a rider to a pending appropriations bill.

Since terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Congress and the Bush administration have been working on new policy measures to protect the energy industry.

Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) heard comments from industry representatives at a closed hearing last week. One of those was a representative of Conoco Inc., which had spearheaded a June report by the National Petroleum Council on physical and cyber threats to US energy infrastructure (OGJ, Oct. 1, 2001, p. 22).

Bingaman also recently sent letters to 12 industry trade groups seeking input on further measures that government could take to ensure the safety and reliability of energy and water delivery systems.

House leaders are also addressing security concerns through a special subcommittee formed last month in the wake of the attacks.

Energy policy bill
Separately, Bingaman plans to resume markups of a comprehensive energy policy energy bill the week of Oct. 14.

Before the August recess, the panel unanimously approved new funding for energy research and development. Now, the more controversial elements of the policy will be tackled.

Under the committee rules, the panel will not consider leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska until after the electricity and energy efficiency portions of the package have been tackled. Whether the committee will be able to include ANWR leasing in the overall bill is uncertain.

Another problem facing the energy policy bill is that congressional leaders want to adjourn late this month. Another plan under consideration would have Congress recess for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays but remain on call to return to Washington if necessary.

Senate Republicans have criticized the pace at which Democrats have considered energy reform legislation.

Republicans argue the omnibus bill must give producers greater access to public lands for oil and gas development. The Teamsters and other labor unions say that would also increase jobs.

Senate Democrats have said they are not trying to stall the process but do not want to pass a controversial measure, such as ANWR leasing, without more debate. The House-passed bill would allow ANWR leasing.

The Democrats say producers have access to ample federal lands, including 32 million acres of undrilled leases in the Gulf of Mexico, without opening environmentally sensitive areas such as ANWR.

But some Senate Democrats may seek to expand the area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that is available for exploration.

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at maureenl@ogjonline.com

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