Energy bill addresses hydropower rules

The Senate energy bill continued to take shape yesterday, as Energy and Natural Resources Committee members approved a raft of provisions on issues from hydropower to ethanol.

One amendment adopted requires federal agencies with jurisdiction over relicensing of hydroelectric power plants to consider alternatives to mandatory conditions that the agencies may impose. Alternatives could be offered by the power plant or by a third party, according to the language adopted.

The provision also seeks to speed approval of licenses through an expedited “trial-type hearing” to examine disputed issues among interested parties, according to a committee news release.

A bipartisan group of senators sponsored the amendment, signaling once again the new spirit of cooperation under which Sen. Pete Domenici’s (R-N.M.) committee is operating. In previous debates, Democrats and Republicans have sparred over hydropower re-licensing provisions.

The committee also adopted a federal mandate for ethanol production to reach 8 billion gallons by 2012, a win for the corn lobby and other supporters of alternative fuels.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced an amendment that requires that, by 2015, 250 million of the 8 billion gallons come from cellulosic biomass. Cellulosic ethanol is derived from plant fiber, as opposed to the corn-derived variety currently in wide use. The amendment passed on voice vote.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) won support for her amendment to exempt California during the summer months from the ethanol mandate, by a 12-10 vote.

The committee, which was scheduled to continue its markup today, also voted to authorize $1.25 billion for research and development to construct a nuclear reactor in Idaho that would produce both electricity and hydrogen.

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