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Bush's energy bill headed for passage
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


June 20, 2005

Washington - The Senate has seen a week of debate over eye-popping gasoline prices, corn-based ethanol, the value of pristine shoreline and the future of windmills and nuclear power.

Now, the White House is cautiously optimistic that the complicated and far-reaching energy bill it has promoted for nearly five years will win Senate approval Friday and reach the president's desk this summer.

In a series of important Senate votes on energy amendments last week, the White House won on nearly every issue with significant bipartisan support. The House passed its energy bill April 21.

Although most experts concede that the legislation would have no immediate impact on prices at the gas pump, there is almost no aspect of a consumer's day that would be untouched by the pending legislation. If passed, it will affect the cost of energy, regulations to control environmental cleanup, whether America's energy comes increasingly from nuclear power and coal or from wind and hydropower, the size of tomorrow's cars and how many miles to a gallon of gas they'll offer.

Some provisions are not controversial, such as changes in power plant operating procedures intended to avoid massive brownouts such as happened in the summer of 2003. Other provisions would increase nuclear plant operators' liability from $63 million to $95 million and increase research into clean coal technology.

But a bid to deal with global climate change, which should get a vote this week, is still a potential deal breaker. The White House opposes efforts to add any restrictions on heat-trapping emissions, which are believed to contribute to global warming. There are no restrictions in the House version, but a bipartisan group of senators is intent on adding them to theirs.

Last year, both the House and Senate passed energy bills, but the process stalled over an arcane dispute about whether producers of methyl tertiary butyl ether, added to gasoline, should be subject to lawsuits. This year's House version again says they should get a lawsuit waiver, but the Senate's doesn't.

In yet another speech last week demanding action on energy, President Bush predicted that high gasoline prices will ignite tempers around the nation if action on energy policy again stalls in Congress. Yet he conceded that the bill would not automatically drive down prices anytime soon.

He again said the United States must produce more crude oil; develop alternative sources of energy; build more nuclear plants; reduce demand from countries such as China, which will soon be competing with the United States for Saudi oil; and promote conservation.

Nonetheless, the White House does not want any sort of goal set to cut back U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The administration worked hard to defeat a move by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to set a goal of reducing crude oil consumption 40 percent by 2025.

About 58 percent of the U.S. daily use of 20 million barrels is imported. Unless something changes, the United States will be importing 68 percent of the oil it uses by 2025.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said he opposed Cantwell's amendment because it was a "back-door effort to increase the corporate average fuel economy," or CAFE, standards for automobiles. He said that was unrealistic and would mean disruption in the transportation industry, forcing a move to smaller, lighter cars _ "golf carts," as he put it _ and thus more highway deaths.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., agreed, saying Cantwell's proposed goal of reducing 7.6 million gallons of imported oil a day would require a fuel economy standard of 78 mpg for cars and 68 mpg for trucks. He also said it would send many more jobs abroad.

But late in the week, her amendment was defeated by a vote of 53-47.

Despite opposition from a coalition of 26 Republicans and Democrats, 70 senators joined to set financial incentives for mandating 8 billion gallons of ethanol, mostly corn-based, by 2012 _ a bid supported by the White House.

But the Senate bucked the administration on another amendment, offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to require that by 2020, 10 percent of all electricity consumed come from renewable power, such as wind turbines. After a feisty debate about whether Americans would rebel at windmills dotting the landscape, the Senate approved the goal, 52-48.

Still undetermined is whether the Senate will vote to increase offshore oil and gas development _ with New Jersey's two Democratic senators pleading that their 127 miles of shoreline should not have to take on more environmental risks _ as well as curbing carbon emissions as a contributor to global warming.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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