State officials protest natural gas clause


WASHINGTON - State officials from California to Rhode Island are fuming over a provision, slipped into the year-end spending bill expected to clear Congress next week, that says federal regulators should decide where liquefied natural gas terminals are built.

Many lawmakers say they didn't know about the provision when they voted for the voluminous bill last month.

State regulators say it would make it harder for them to block facilities that could harm the environment or pose safety and security risks.

The language reflects the determination of President Bush and his congressional allies to increase energy supplies, especially in the face of predicted increases in natural gas prices.

California appears to be the target of the provision. The state has gone to court challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's claim that it has sole authority to decide whether an LNG facility will be built in Long Beach. The facility would receive imported natural gas that had been cooled to a liquid so it could be transported by ship rather than pipeline.

Supporters say the provision would prevent a burdensome regulatory process from delaying projects critical to the nation's energy needs.

Marnie Funk, a spokeswoman for Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, said he put the language into the bill "to bring clarity to a situation in California that has been fraught with uncertainty and conflict."

Domenici aides drafted the clause for a bill overhauling national energy policy, she said, and when that bill stalled, he added it to the spending bill.

"When you consider that the leadership in Congress, for the most part, are people who represent themselves as being states' rights advocates, it's just outrageous and hypocritical," said Carl Wood, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Rhode Island's attorney general, Patrick C. Lynch, attacked the provision as a "usurping of a sovereign state's rights and ability to control its own destiny." He also complained about the way it was tucked into a huge bill under a category for FERC's salaries and expenses.

Critics say the provision is an example of what happens when Congress rushes to approve a 3,016-page, $388 billion bill with most of its members acknowledging they hadn't read it.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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