Energy Bill Advances Out of Senate Committee, Would Streamline Mine Permitting

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 18-4 Friday to advance the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, a broad bipartisan measure that would fund modernization of the energy grid and reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

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10 Republicans and eight Democrats voted for the bill, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was among those who voted against the bill, which would fund improvements to the energy grid, streamline mine permitting and set deadlines for liquid natural gas export decisions. It would also streamline the approval process for projects such the Alaska gas pipeline.

11 Environmental groups – including The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council – oppose the legislation and sent a letter to the committee attacking several of its measures. Maria Cantwell (D.-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the committee and a co-sponsor of the bill with Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska), usually enjoys the support of the environmental groups.

Controversial Measures Left Out

In fact, Cantwell and Murkowski specifically tailored the bill to avoid controversial issues that had stalled earlier energy bills over the last eight years. These included the Keystone XL Pipeline and tying any of its measures to climate change. The mainstream bill, apparently, was still not enough for Sanders of the environmental groups.

The letter said the bill needs a “stronger vision for accelerating the development and deployment of clean energy.”

The mining and manufacturing industries have generally been supportive of the bill.

“It should be a top priority for Congress this session to implement policies that take advantage of our significant resource abundance in order to bolster our energy supply and strengthen the economy,” said Hal Quinn, the National Mining Association‘s president and CEO, of the bill.

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With the gridlock in Washington, it is difficult to pass legislation at all, let alone get everything you want. Environmental groups called out 10 specific measures they found unacceptable in the letter. These included the sections on expediting LNG exports, ending the mandate to phase out fossil fuels in federal buildings, altering certain Energy Department efficiency programs, and expediting mineral mining permits.

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They may want to reconsider their opposition if this bill passes the full Senate, which it’s on track to do. A Cantwell spokeswoman said that amendments were planned to deal with many of the environment groups’ concerns. If this bill should fail it’s unlikely that a more environmentally friendly one will pass with both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans. The Sierra Club and the other groups might find themselves wishing for a bipartisan compromise bill like Murkowski and Cantwell’s.

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