Opponents in Colorado Senate race take identical legislation into battle for natural gas crown

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Energy Department,Colorado,2014 Elections,PennAve,Energy and Environment,Zack Colman,Natural Gas,Cory Gardner,Mark Udall

Even though Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is trying to fend off Rep. Cory Gardner to keep his Senate seat, he does like at least one thing about his Republican challenger -- his natural gas export bill.

Udall said Wednesday he would try to tie an amendment modeled on a Gardner-sponsored bill the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed earlier in the day to an energy-efficiency bill that could hit the Senate floor next week. His spokesman, Mike Saccone, said the move was designed to smooth a path for passage.

"If the House and Senate pass different bills, that does nothing to achieve Sen. Udall's ultimate goals of (i.) boosting U.S. [liquefied natural gas] exports and (ii.) leveraging Colorado's natural gas resources to create jobs and promote global stability," he told the Washington Examiner in an email.

Both lawmakers have tried to position themselves as the champion for natural gas exports -- which would incentivize new drilling in natural gas-rich Colorado -- in what has become a tight race heading into the November midterm election. It got to the point that when both dropped virtually identical bills in early March, Udall reminded the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he had introduced his legislation first.

Now, however, it is Gardner who has cast the first stone. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee struck a deal with Democrats that scaled back the legislation, sending it to the House floor 33-18 with five Democrats crossing the aisle.

Udall had said at an unrelated press conference Wednesday that he hadn't reviewed Gardner's bill. About one hour later, his office released a statement that he would mirror Gardner's proposal.

In comments to reporters after the press event — and before his office's statement — Udall downplayed the significance of the natural gas exports flag-planting in the race for his Senate seat.

"It's going to be that some point in the silly season people are grandstanding. My whole focus is legislative, working on behalf of Colorado and the country," he said Wednesday. "It's not about the politics, it's about getting the policy right."

The amendment, like Gardner's bill that cleared the committee, would require the Energy Department to rule on all 24 pending export applications to non-free trade agreement countries within 90 days after the comment period closing. It also strikes language that would have extended a more lenient review criteria to World Trade Organization members, rather than to just countries with free-trade agreements.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the Energy Department is processing applications to non-FTA countries too slowly, especially in light of Russia's incursion in Ukraine, where it has used its role as the country's natural gas supplier to wield influence.

But such projects require greater scrutiny because they must be deemed in the public interest — so far, the DOE has given the green light to seven of them, amounting to 9.3 billion cubic feet per day of exports.

Still, it's not clear whether Udall will get a chance to attach the measure to the efficiency bill, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Lawmakers are trying to work out a deal to bring the energy-efficiency bill to the floor. Republicans have scoffed at proposals to hold a non-binding vote on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline at a later date, and Democrats are furious that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., pledged to revive an Obamacare-related amendment that derailed the bill in September.

In a statement, Udall portrayed the effort as an attempt to avoid squabbles over technical differences between a bill he originally floated that, like the earlier version of Gardner's bill, would have immediately approved all the applications and included the WTO language.

"Colorado's natural gas resources have a central role to play in creating jobs and promoting global stability. This effort to expedite natural gas exports to our allies and trading partners abroad is far too important to get bogged down over technical differences between the two chambers," Udall said. "That's why I plan to introduce legislation mirroring the amended House bill, which has the same goals as a proposal I introduced earlier this year."

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