By OGJ editors
WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 10 -- US Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) Tuesday said he has trimmed back a pending comprehensive energy bill, but it is unclear when the full Senate will consider the measure.
"I have a leaner energy bill ready to go to the floor. I have significantly reduced the cost of this bill, and I'm confident it will get broad support in the Senate when it is considered," Domenici said.
Domenici said the estimated cost of the tax package now is $14-15 billion, compared with the earlier $31 billion price tag of the measure that failed last November.
Fiscal conservatives and the White House balked at the cost of the November bill.
The lawmaker also agreed not to attempt to attach the revamped bill to a pending highway funding plan now under consideration by Congress. He said in a statement that he respected the wishes of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who opposed adding energy legislation to the highway bill.
Domenici's new plan, when or if it is considered this session, does not include liability protections for methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) or ethanol and the related additive ethyl tertiary butyl ether. The MTBE liability issue is controversial; the earlier Senate bill was stymied by the provision, strongly endorsed by House Republican leaders.
Even if the Senate passes the new energy bill, it is unclear whether the House will accept any version that does not include MTBE protections.
"It seems unlikely that the House will agree to remove the MTBE liability protection, given the committed position of House leadership and the fact that the House has three bipartisan votes under its belt in favor of the MTBE provision," said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for MTBE producers.
Sources close to House Republican leaders in fact have suggested that if the Senate takes the MTBE provision off the table, the House may try to make its own revisions. That could mean trying to include a deal-busting provision to allow leasing in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example.
Meanwhile, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association said it was "extremely disappointed" with Domenici's decision to exclude MTBE protections from the bill. "This is an issue that must be included in any final legislative product."
Domenici's new version delays several oil and gas provisions. A measure that would expand the Minerals Management Service's new deep-well, shallow-water provision would be delayed until fiscal year 2005, for example. Similarly, provisions designed to expand marginal well production and royalty-in-kind programs also would be delayed until FY 2005, which is supposed to start this October.
It's unclear what oil and gas tax provisions remain in the bill; industry lobbyists speculated that lawmakers may revert back to the Senate title that passed the chamber in 2002 and then again in 2003. That bill allowed for $4 billion in tax breaks to US oil and gas producers. But there may not be the same support to provide financial incentives for a proposed Alaska gas pipeline.
The new proposal also delays two measures to FY 2009. The first is a provision authorizing certain lease holders in the Gulf of Mexico to withhold royalties to offset interest owed them by the federal government, as outlined in a Department of the Interior opinion. The second plan delays a provision that reimburses industry for environmental reviews associated with the National Environmental Protection Act.