(April 20, 2005) -- With LB at ground zero but unmentioned by any member of the House of Representatives, debate began on a major federal Energy bill that contains provisions removing state approval authority and local oversight regarding Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities nationwide.
If the provisions (spawned an LNG application at the Port of LB) end up in the Senate version of the bill and become law, LB's City Attorney told the City Council on April 19 that they would effectively erase decisionmaking authority of the CA Public Utilities Commission, undermine the current application of laws in the coastal zone and strip the City Council and Board of Harbor Commissioners of environmental review roles concerning the 80+ million Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility proposed by a Mitsubishi subsidiary in the Port, roughly two miles from downtown LB.
During initial sparring over a procedural rule governing debate and amendments to the bill, some east coast House Democrats took issue with the LNG provisions of the bill. A formal amendment to strike the LNG provisions from the bill will likely come up for consideration on April 21, followed by a House vote on the full bill.
An April 19 letter to the House Rules Committee by the amendment's authors -- Congressmembers Mike Castle (D., DE) and Ed Markey (D., MA) -- was co-signed by ten House Democrats...but only one of CA's 53 member House delegation (Rep. Lois Capps from the Santa Barbara area).
The letter said the Energy bill as written would pre-empt "state and local siting decisions, which would prevent states from taking actions to address the risks associated with the siting of LNG facilities in populated areas...This language is strongly opposed by the states who are currently dealing with proposed LNG terminals. For example, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Ocean Protection Council, and the California Coastal Commission have all come out in opposition [to the bill's LNG section] and in support of efforts to strike it from the bill."
As previously reported on LBReport.com, by the time the LB City Council met on April 19 for an agendized discussion on the advancing bill, the House Rules Committee had already adopted a rule to bring the bill to the floor on April 20...and to limit debate on the LNG amendment to a total of ten minutes (five minutes pro, five minutes con).
If the debate follows the pattern seen during House Energy Committee markup of the bill (previously reported by LBReport.com), the Democrat-backed amendment will be defeated with House Republicans (joined by some Texas Democrats) in the majority. The House will then move to consider the full Energy bill...which is expected to pass. It will then go to the Senate...whose Energy Committee leadership is currently preparing its own version of an Energy bill, apparently paralleling major parts of the House bill.
As previously reported by LBReport.com, LB's paid DC lobbyist, E. Del Smith -- who represents both LB City Hall and the Port of LB under separate contracts -- did not attend the April 19 Council meeting...although City Manager Jerry Miller told Councilmembers in an April 15 memo that he had asked Mr. Smith "to attend [the Council meeting] in person and provide additional information on the status of this legislation. Del Smith will supplement the presentation from the City Attorney, and will be available to answer your questions."
On April 19 (the day of the Council meeting), Mr. Miller sent the Mayor and Councilmembers a memo stating, "Though I had hoped that Del Smith would be able to be present and participate in tonight's [April 19] discussion concerning pending FERC legislation, he will be detained in Seattle and not able to be present tonight. We will attempt to arrange another time for Del to speak to you about this important issue."
City Attorney Shannon said during the Council meeting that Mr. 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 indicated 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 stressed -- that Sen. Feinstein's staff urged LB officials to press Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 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 that her letter was inappropriate since the Council sets city policy...but since then, the Council has not taken a policy position for or against the proposed LNG project. The Port of LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners, as landlord for the Harbor area, has the ultimate power to decide whether the facility will be built on Port property, City Attorney Shannon has said.
Councilmembers voted on April 19 to oppose the provisions of the federal energy bill re federal powers over LNG.
Check with LBReport.com on Thursday April 21 for the latest developments on this story.