OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House readies rules of engagement on oil drilling fight

The first bill, which is slated for a floor vote this week, would set a timeline for Gulf of Mexico lease sales and mandate the sale of leases off the Virginia coast.

The second bill, which may not come up on the floor until next week, would require that the Interior Department act on pending permit requests within 30 days. The bill has two 15-day extensions, but a permit is deemed approved if the department has not acted within 60 days.

Here’s more on the bills.

Lawmakers filed amendments on the permitting bill Tuesday morning. All of the more than two-dozen amendments were filed by Democrats. They include an amendment by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) to dramatically increase the liability cap on damages from an oil spill and an amendment by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) to rename the bill the “Drilling a Bigger Hole in the Deficit Act.”

You can see all the amendments here.

Amendments for the bill requiring new lease sales are due Wednesday morning. The Rules Committee will then meet at 3 p.m. to determine which amendments will be allowed.

Look for a story in The Hill's Wednesday edition on efforts by Democrats to pair a vote on repealing oil subsidies as part with consideration of the GOP drilling bills.

NEWS BITES:

Senators: Success of oil subsidies repeal is all in the packaging

Just how many votes a bill to repeal oil industry tax breaks might receive depends on where the money goes.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters Tuesday that such a measure may get more votes if lawmakers can find the right formula for distributing the revenues from the oil subsidies.

“If you use the revenue from the subsidies for other things or you package it with other actions, you may get a different vote. It could be higher, it could be lower,” Levin said.

“The packaging of it is critically important and it makes it hard to predict.”

A measure to eliminate the subsidies offered by Levin failed in February. The measure would have used the used the revenue from the repeal of the subsidies to repeal reporting requirements under the healthcare law.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) told reporters Tuesday that while she does not support slashing oil industry subsidies, she could support such a measure as part of a larger tax package.

“I don’t think that we should do that except in the context of overall tax reform and balancing this budget. I don’t think holding up the oil industry as villains, even if it is just 'Big Oil,' is the right approach,” she said.

And Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who voted against Levin’s proposal to repeal the subsidies, said he would consider future proposals. But, he warned, the devil is in the details.

“I think that there are some tax provisions that are hard to justify at the current time,” Bingaman said. “I’m not passing judgment on any particular proposal.”

Blumenthal to seek ‘additional steps’ in DOJ gas price probe

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wants a more expansive Obama administration probe of potential energy market abuses that may be contributing to rising prices at the pump.

“I am going to be writing to the attorney general asking for additional steps,” Blumenthal told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday.

The Justice Department last month launched a multi-agency task force to explore the influence of speculative trading in energy futures and whether there is price manipulation or fraud afoot.

Blumenthal didn’t provide details Tuesday. But on April 24 he said more aggressive action is needed, including “subpoenas and compulsory process” and a potential grand jury.

He said at the time that DOJ should send a “a very strong deterrent message that this country will not tolerate the kind of illegal speculation and trading and hedge fund activity that may be driving prices up.”

Holder: No ‘preconceived notions’ for energy-price task force


Attorney General Eric Holder, for his part, told a House panel Tuesday that the task force isn’t assuming there is illegal behavior behind rising oil and gasoline prices. “We don't go into this with any preconceived notions,” he told the Judiciary Committee.

“There are certainly market forces that are at work. And I don't want to oversell what it is that we will be doing,” Holder said. But he then added:

“To the extent that there are inappropriate attempts to manipulate the market, that there is price gouging, other things of that nature that have had a devastating impact on average Americans who are trying to, in these tough economic times, make do, that would be the focus of this task force.”

Vitter questions Interior’s right to extend drilling oversight


Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is questioning whether the Interior Department has the legal authority to extend regulation of offshore drilling to contractors that work on the projects.

Michael Bromwich, the department’s top offshore regulator, said Monday that the department has concluded it has the power it needs to extend its oversight beyond oil-and-gas producers.

But Vitter, in a letter to Bromwich Tuesday that expresses “strong concerns,” asks for a copy of a legal memorandum explaining the authority and other questions.

“It appears this expansion of regulatory authority will serve as another hurdle to expanding our domestic production by inserting even more confusion to the permitting process,” the letter states.

Foundations ‘AGree’ on tackling food and farming issues

A number of large foundations – including the Ford Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – are backing a major new initiative to tackle long-term agriculture and food policy issues.

The “AGree” initiative launched Tuesday is headed by officials including Clinton-era Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg, and aims to bring together an array of interests to tackle some big problems.

They’ve got plenty on their plate — the announcement notes that over the next 40 years there will be an estimated 2.6 billion more people to feed, and hundreds of millions are already undernourished or hungry.

“Simultaneously, the world faces a limited amount of easily accessible arable land, increasing pressures on freshwater quality and availability and accelerating environmental degradation,” the announcement states.

“Solutions to these challenges will require best-in-class research, comprehensive analysis and cross-sector dialogue — resources productively brought together for the first time under the AGree initiative,” it adds.

Levin to ‘look’ at oil/gas price manipulation

Levin, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, told reporters Tuesday he intends to look into market manipulation of oil and gas prices.

“I’m going to be digging into that issue in at least one way and maybe in many ways,” he said. “We’re going to be looking into it. I’m not sure exactly what form a look would take.”

President Obama announced last month that the Justice Department will form a task force to look at the same issues.

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

House panel to hear from US nuke regulators

Two panels of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on “The Role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] in America’s Energy Future.”

NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko and other NRC officials will appear.

House panel to mark up chemical security bill

The Environment and the Economy Subcommittee will vote on legislation to extend chemical plant security standards for six years.

Climate conference powers on

Wednesday brings day two of the big Creating Climate Wealth conference.

Hydropower in focus

A panel of the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing titled "Protecting Federal Hydropower Investments in the West: A Stakeholder’s Perspective."


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Here’s a quick roundup of Tuesday‘s E2 stories:

-A new report said sea levels will rise as much as five feet by 2100
-Democrats prepared alternatives to House GOP drilling bills
-A vote in the Senate on repealing oil subsidies is unlikely this week
-Bingaman is eyeing a vote in his Energy and Natural Resources Committee on establishing a clean-energy agency
-BP agreed to pay a $25 million civil penalty over a 2006 Alaska oil pipeline spill and spend another $60 million to address pipeline integrity
-A Senate Democrat pitched a bill to establish tax-free gas accounts
-Reid said he wants to bring energy legislation to the floor before the Memorial Day recess
-Voter are worried about $5 a gallon gas
-The Interior Department’s top offshore drilling official wants to meet with a group of coastal governors

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

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