The agenda

The US Congress is entering another of those crazy Septembers, when it has too much to do, in too little time, in a highly political atmosphere.

The US Congress is entering another of those crazy Septembers, when it has too much to do, in too little time, in a highly political atmosphere.

In such a pressure cooker, anything can happen, but there's not much chance for legislation the oil industry wants. Neither political party wants to allow the other to claim any achievements just before the November elections.

Congress plans to adjourn Oct. 6 to enable legislators to campaign for reelection. It often misses that deadline by a week or so.

There's a good chance Congress will reauthorize the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which lapsed Mar. 31. Without it, the President has implied but not concrete powers to draw down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve during an emergency.

The administration is creating a temporary 2 million bbl home heating oil stockpile in the Northeast and it wants Congress to amend EPCA to make that permanent. It also wants Congress to set criteria that would "trigger" use of the stockpile in a shortage.

Other bills

A bill to earmark nearly $3 billion/year of the government's offshore oil and gas revenues for conservation programs is in trouble.

The Senate energy committee and the full House have approved similar measures, which would automatically fund federal programs now subject to the whims of annual appropriations.

Many environmental groups like the bill. So does the oil industry, which hopes it would broaden coastal and inland support for offshore drilling.

But western senators object to regular funding of land acquisitions. They say the federal government already owns too much land in the West.

There's broad support for bills to phase methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) out of reformulated gasoline, because leaks have contaminated aquifers.

The Senate environment and public works committee plans to mark up a bill in September that does not favor any oxygenate to replace MTBE.

The administration and farm-state senators want the bill to mandate a larger role for ethanol, something the oil industry strongly opposes.

Long shots

The Senate has passed a token retail electricity reform bill, but the House commerce committee remains deadlocked on even that.

The Senate bill would give the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more power to ensure the reliability of the electric power grid.

It's unlikely Congress will pass a bill to renew and revamp the nation's pipeline safety laws.

The Senate commerce committee has proposed to expand the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act and the Hazardous Liquids Pipeline Safety Act, both of which will expire Sept. 30 unless reauthorized. The House transportation and infrastructure committee plans a September markup.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has pledged to bring an omnibus energy bill to the floor, but prospects are nil.

It would allow leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain in Alaska, give oil and gas producers tax credits to keep marginal wells on flow, and allow producersto expense geological and geophysical costs and delay rental payments.

More in Pipelines & Transportation