Energy Bill to Bush

Congress finally passes first major energy legislation in more than decade

Published in CSP Daily News

WASHINGTON -- After years of stalemate, Congress on Friday sent President Bush a national energy plan touted by supporters as providing a diverse mix of fuels, new jobs, cleaner-burning coal and the next generation of nuclear reactors, said the Associated Press.

The Senate approved the mammoth $12.3 billion legislation 74 to 26. The Senate action a day after the bill breezed through the House completed the first major overhaul of the nation's energy policies in 13 years. The White Househas said the president was lookingforward to signing it into law, possibly this week.[image-nocss]

Under political pressure to do something about the nation's energy problems in light of soaring oil and gasoline prices, Bush challenged Congress to provide him a bill before lawmakers depart this week on a five-week summer recess.

Some Democrats said they voted for the measure reluctantly because of its cost and its tepid response to reducing the country's consumption of oilnow more than 20 million barrels a day, more than half imported.

And even the bill's sponsors acknowledged that their the 1,724-page bill would have little if any impact on today's energy prices or wean the nation away from its thirst for oil. "We won't have any answers if the question is what are you going to do tomorrow morning about gasoline prices," said Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who led the Senate negotiations with the House in crafting the legislation.

But he said the bill would, indeed, provide financial incentives and federal policies "that we as a nation will benefit from not tomorrow, but for the next five or 10 years."

A provision with direct and more immediate impact on the public expands daylight-saving time by one month, adding three weeks in the spring and a week in the fall, taking it beyond Halloween. The change would go into effect in 2007.

Consumers also will see tax credits for the purchase of hybrid-electric cars and get tax breaks for making energy conservation improvements in their homes.

The bill provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks and potentially billions more in loan guarantees and other subsidies to encourage oil and gas drilling, improve natural gas and electric transmission lines, build new nuclear power reactors and expand renewable energy sources, especially construction of wind turbines.

Its cost, put at $12.3 billion after revenue offsets, is nearly twice the $6.7 billion price tag the White House had sought. "The cost of this...is staggering, said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who tried to block the measure because he said it violated the Senate's own budget rules. His attempt was rejected 71 to 29.

The bill's cost was overridden by its widespread political support, in part because it includes something for virtually everyone.

In addition to the broad array of tax incentives and tax breaks to virtually every energy industry, it will be a boon to farmers by directing a doubling of corn-based ethanol use in gasoline to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012, a provision embraced by Farm Belt lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans.

Critics said the bill also eases environmental rules for refiners and for oil and gas exploration. And they're concerned about what is not in it. "The bill is a series of missed opportunities," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who was the only Senate Democrat to oppose the compromise legislation in the House-Senate conference that crafted the final version this week.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said it falls far short of what is needed by not addressing climate change and including nothing that would increase the fuel economy of automobiles. He said a report was made public recently from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showing a decline in automobile fuel economy.

Lawmakers avoided a certain fight in the Senate by leaving out one of Bush's top energy goals: opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil drilling. House Republicans promised to pursue that issue separately this fall.

As reported in CSP Daily News, House Republicans also abandoned a provision that would have given the makers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) protection against lawsuits stemming from the chemical's contamination of drinking water supplies in at least 36 states.