Fossil fuel protestors try to disrupt Natural Gas Roundtable event

Fossil fuel protestors tried to disrupt a June 18 Natural Gas Roundtable (NGR) luncheon on Capitol Hill where four US House members were describing efforts to develop energy legislation that Congress would pass and US President Barack Obama would sign into law. Compromise and cooperation will be essential, the House Natural Gas Caucus members agreed.

“Natural gas kills!” one protestor shouted repeatedly as US Capitol Police carried him from the room and down the hall. Others called out from where they were sitting that Congress should be talking more about combatting climate change than expanding gas production, transmission, and distribution—especially on the day Pope Francis issued his encyclical on climate change.

“I normally keep my personal religious beliefs to myself,” said Jim Costa (D-Calif.), a House Natural Resources Committee member. “But as a Catholic, I love Pope Francis. He’s a breath of fresh air, and I admire his efforts to speak out on important issues.”

To one protestor who had interrupted, he said, “I recognize you’re passionate. I’m passionate too. I have farmers in my district who have been on food stamps for the last 2 years because they can’t get water for their crops.

“The challenge we all face—whether for energy or water—is planning for sustainability,” Costa said. “We can have a healthy discourse, but at the end of the day, we have to figure out how to make things keep working when there will be 2 billion more people on the planet.”

Noting that its present growth is beginning to eclipse his home state’s long oil and gas history, Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said, “We are called to use natural resources we’ve been provided as good stewards. The whole debate needs to be centered on good data, sound science, and keeping prices affordable so even our poorest neighbors can heat their homes each winter.”

Provide knowledgeable experts

Thompson, who also serves on the Natural Resources Committee, said it’s essential for oil and gas industry companies and associations to provide knowledgeable experts able to answer Senate and House members’ questions as they develop legislation.

“We’ve tried to use this information in our briefings here and around the country to help lawmakers make good, sound policy decisions,” he said. “What’s exciting is that the situation is not static. There are people developing exciting new technologies which will produce tremendous benefits. But when it comes to public policy, if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.) said the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which he serves, “actually is back to legislating” after years of members talking across each other. Its work developing the Toxic Substances Control Act was good enough that the chemical safety bill is headed for the House floor in another week for debate under suspension, he observed.

Language in a bill that aims to expedite pipeline construction is “pretty firm,” Green said, adding that he hopes he can repeal a section of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandating no fossil fuels be used in federal buildings.

“Natural gas is the essential answer,” he said as he expressed his support for exporting more LNG. “I drive through the Eagle Ford field pretty often, and wince when I see gas being flared there. I’d rather see it sold overseas.”

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) said he strongly disagrees with the New York Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) opposition to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Saying that a recent US Environmental Protection Agency report conclusively shows that neither threaten drinking water supplies, Reed said, “Our governor and legislature keep saying ‘no, we can’t’ when the rest of the country says ‘yes, we can.’”

‘Art of the possible’

Costa said the caucus’ members are trying to work in a bipartisan manner to get things done by focusing on the “art of the possible” instead of wish lists. Specifically mentioning more public land access and major Endangered Species Act reforms, he said, “What might make a good political press release or sound bite isn’t going to go far.”

Calling the caucus “a work in progress,” Costa said he and other members “are working to find a sweet spot to move legislation forward.”

Green said the Energy and Commerce Committee’s lawmaking climate has improved so much under Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ranking Minority Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) that it hopes to advance comprehensive energy legislation for the first time since 2008. US Senate Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) has established a similar goal on that side of the Capitol.

At the luncheon’s conclusion, NGR Pres. David M. Sweet said the group would continue to welcome nonmembers to its events. “We believe in free speech, but we would prefer to keep the discussion civil,” he noted.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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