(April 20, 2005) -- In a high stakes but surreal series of events at the April 19 City Council meeting, LB's City Attorney publicly warned the City Council that portions of a federal Energy bill (previously reported by LBReport.com) could seriously damage LB's ability to control and oversee an 80+ million Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility proposed roughly two miles from downtown LB, while Councilmembers and the Mayor discussed how best to convey their displeasure to Congress -- all seemingly unaware that the bill itself was being scheduled for debate on the House floor the next day -- meaning later today, April 20.
While Councilmembers wondered how best to use a Washington, D.C. trip by Councilman Frank Colonna scheduled next week, or their roles with the National League of Cities and U.S. Conference of Mayors to address the issue (about which local activists had warned for months), the House Rules Committee had already scheduled a hearing (2 p.m. PDT) and voted (roughly 7:15 p.m. PDT) to adopt a rule governing debate and discussion of the Energy bill.
The rule limits debate on the bill and allocates ten minutes of House floor debate to an amendment to delete the federal supremacy sections re LNG facilities (details below).
That debate could come later today (April 20) -- possibly starting within hours -- on House approval of the rule, then on proposed amendments to the bill itself...with some House votes possibly taking place as early as tonight or early tomorrow (April 21).
Meanwhile, LB's paid DC lobbyist, E. Del Smith -- who represents both City Hall and the Port under separate contracts -- did not speak at the April 19 Council meeting. In an April 18 email, Vice Mayor Jackie Kell's office told LBReport.com that Mr. Smith "is scheduled to be part of tomorrow night's agenda item presentation and will update the Mayor, City Council and public on the efforts being taken to avert federal intervention in the LNG issue." That information separately corroborated by staff in another Council office...and LBReport.com has learned that City Manager Jerry Miller circulated a memorandum on the matter. The memo was unavailable to LBReport.com as we post shortly after dawn April 20 and Mr. Smith's absence from the Council meeting was not publicly explained.
[Update: Management's two memoranda on the subject were subsequently provided to us; we've promptly posted their text in full; to view the memos, click here]
City Attorney Bob Shannon indicated during the April 19 Council meeting that Mayor O'Neill had sent some kind of correspondence in or about late March to Sen. Pete Domenici (R., NM) about the pending federal energy bill...but that correspondence was also not publicly available as we post.
[Update: The letter was subsequently provided to us; to view it, click here].
City Attorney Shannon told the Council that lobbyist Smith had engaged in some actions regarding the bill, but indicated those would be better explained by Mr. Smith himself...in two weeks.
Mr. Shannon said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) was planning to introduce an amendment when the Energy bill reaches the Senate that would seek some type of "concurrent" jurisdiction with FERC and the California Public Utilities Commission. Shannon said -- and repeatedly stressed -- that Sen. Feinstein's staff urged LB officials to press Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (a Republican) to support Feinstein's amendment on the matter as well as other Mayors of coastal communities.
LB activist Bry Myown -- who has said for months that actions by the Port and the inaction of Council were inviting a federal takeover of the LNG process -- said LB was now facing "train wreck" over the issue. Ms. Myown charged that a letter, sent by Mayor O'Neill to Senator Feinstein in 2003 seeking Feinstein's help in speeding the LNG project, had caused DC lawmakers to believe LB supports a federal takeover. After LBReport.com publicly reported the letter in 2003, Mayor O'Neill acknowledged the letter was inappropriate since the Council sets city policy...but since then, the City Council has not taken a position for or against the proposed LNG project (on which the Port of LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners is scheduled to decide.)
Councilmembers voted on April 19 to oppose the provisions of the federal energy bill re federal powers over LNG.
The structured rule adopted by the House Rules Committee on April 19 provides for "one hour and 30 minutes of general debate with 30 minutes equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and 20 minutes equally divided and controlled by the chairmen and ranking minority members of each of the following Committees: Science, Resources, and Ways and Means."
Among its fast-track provisions, it "waives all points of order against consideration of the bill; makes in order only those amendments printed in the Rules Committee report accompanying the resolution; provides that the amendments made in order may be offered only in the order printed in the report, may be offered only by a Member designated in the report, shall be considered as read, shall be debatable for the time specified in the report equally divided and controlled by the proponent and an opponent, shall not be subject to amendment except as specified in the report, and shall not be subject to a demand for division of the question in the House or in the Committee of the Whole; waives all points of order against the amendments printed in the report; and provides one motion to recommit with or without instructions."
One amendment in order by Congressman Michael Castle (D., DE) (a state impacted by a proposed LNG facility in MA) "[s]trikes language in the bill (section 320 of title III), which would preempt the authority of state and local governments to ensure that liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities are sited in areas where they do not pose a threat to public safety, and the states = authority to ensure that such facilities are not sited in places where they pose a threat to sensitive coastal and ocean areas. Under section 320, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), would be made the lead federal agency for LNG siting decisions, and states would be granted only a consultative role. (10 minutes)"
A separate amendment to the bill has been offered on another subject by LB area Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D., Carson-LB). Her amendment would establish a "Diesel Truck Retrofit and Fleet Modernization Program to be administered in conjunction with the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Competitive grants are to be awarded to public agencies and/or state and local governments and entities to implement fleet modernization programs including installation of retrofit technologies for diesel trucks. (10 minutes)"
Check with LBReport.com throughout the day and the evening for the latest developments on this breaking story.