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Once bright promise of congressional energy compromises steadily dims

In a few short weeks, the potential for congressional energy compromises which looked so bright at the beginning of August began to look increasingly tarnished.

Critics conceded there had been progress, as the US House prepared on Sept. 16 to debate a bill which included expanded Outer Continental Shelf leasing, because Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) finally was letting the matter come to a vote. The number of US senators supporting a compromise proposal there had doubled to 20 from the original so-called "Gang of 10."

But the proposals also drew significant fire. Both members from Florida, Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson, warned that they would fight the Senate's current energy legislation vehicle because it would overturn safeguards which were part of the 2006 Energy Independence and Security Act.

Rep. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.), a primary force behind a compromise proposal with 137 cosponsors, said on Sept. 12 that HR 6899, the Democratic leadership's bill, makes the first 50 miles offshore off-limits, does not share federal offshore revenues with coastal states, and provides no funding for environmental restoration or alternative energy research and development.

Public understands need

"It's very clear from public opinion surveys that the American public understands the need for improved access, and Congress gives the impression that it plans to do something," American Petroleum Institute President Red Cavaney said during a Sept. 15 briefing.

But he added that he was not certain if federal lawmakers were ready to take the necessary steps. "Our focus right now is trying to make sure phony legislation isn't passed," he said.

In a Sept. 16 letter to Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), National Petrochemical and Refiners Association President Charles T. Drevna said that HR 6899 "amounts to nothing more than a political shell game that threatens, not enhances, the nation's energy security."

"Moderate members of Congress should not be under any illusion that this, in even the smallest way, is a pro-production bill," he maintained.

Out to posture

Officials at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America generally agreed on Sept. 16 that congressional posturing over energy continued. "While there has been significant progress in terms of offshore drilling, it's still an election year and both sides are trying to preserve the issue," President Donald F. Santa told me.

Martin E. Edwards, INGAA's vice president for legislative affairs, said that congressional leaders seemed to be ignoring harder energy questions. "I wonder when the two sides will start to try and do something substantive by dealing with energy comprehensively instead of trying to still please one or two constituencies," he said.

The main House and Senate bills also focused more on crude oil than natural gas, and hardly mentioned global climate change, the INGAA officials said.

"The conventional wisdom is that legislation on greenhouse gas emissions is 3-4 years away. That raises the question of how an energy bill now might begin to address some of these issues because they're not going to go away," Santa said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com


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