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From escalators to chicken fat, energy bill covers it all
Scripps Howard News Service


July 12, 2005

WASHINGTON - The congressional prescription for the nation's energy future may include escalators in federal buildings that only run when a rider steps near.

Or Grand Canyon tour buses fueled by hydrogen.

Or diesel fuel made from mustard seeds.

Or diesel fuel made from chicken fat.

Or not.

Members of Congress and their staffs will sort through these and hundreds of other provisions during negotiations this week to reconcile the equally massive Senate and House versions of the energy bill. The talks are aimed at breaking a three-year stalemate on a national energy policy.

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said he has been assured by his House counterpart, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, that there's nothing in either bill "that's a show-stopper."

Controversial House provisions include:

- Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Domenici is adamant that this provision will be dropped. Instead, he says, it will be part of the must-pass reconciliation bill Congress will take up at the end of the year to balance revenues with spending.

- No legal liability for makers of the gasoline additive MTBE: This lead substitute in gasoline has polluted drinking-water supplies in hundreds of communities, especially in New England. Senators won't let the Texas MTBE producers off the hook from lawsuits but are willing to see if Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., can negotiate a compromise with Barton.

- Incentives for oil and gas exploration: President Bush and Domenici agree that with oil at $60 a barrel, U.S. producers don't need $8 billion worth of tax incentives to drill new holes. Most of the $10 billion in tax incentives in the Senate bill are aimed at forms of renewable energy and purchases of energy-efficient products.

Controversial Senate provisions include:

- Renewable sources: Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., persuaded the Senate in its bill to require utilities to obtain 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020. But the White House is opposed and the narrowness of Bingaman's win, 52-48, could make it difficult for him to prevail in the conference committee.

- Ethanol mandate: Oil producers strongly object to a provision requiring them to use 8 billion gallons of ethanol from corn and other feed stocks by 2012, but Domenici knows that it's ethanol that keeps Midwest senators behind the bill.

- Loan guarantees: Much of the $8 billion in direct spending authorized in the Senate bill is to back the cost of a coal-gasification project and a new generation of nuclear plants. Some environmental and spending watchdog groups say this is a waste of tax dollars.

Both bills would strengthen federal control over where to put liquefied-natural-gas terminals and transmission lines.

Domenici was indignant when the Supreme Court said cities had the right to buy up homes for shopping malls, but he believes the secretary of energy should have the same power when it comes to important electric-transmission corridors.

There are hundreds of other provisions in one or the other of the bills that represent the pet projects or ideas of various members of Congress.

One is to extend daylight-saving time by two months by starting the first Sunday in March instead of the first Sunday in April and ending the last Sunday in November instead of the last Sunday in October. Barton has said he believes the Senate will go along with this House provision.

Another is from Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who believes the nation could save more than $100 million a year with "intermittent escalators," which would be triggered by an electric eye when a rider approached. She would start with new federal buildings.

Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., asked for a "demonstration project" using hydrogen to power Grand Canyon motor boats used for tourists.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, argues that mustard seeds would produce more oil for bio-diesel than other vegetable seeds. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is the champion of chicken fat bio-diesel.

Bingaman and Domenici back provisions that could spur sales of Pony Pack, a device made by an Albuquerque, N.M., company that saves fuel when trucks are idling. They also agreed on provisions to speed up oil and gas development on Indian reservations if the tribes choose.

And the legislation wouldn't be complete without a few pork-barrel science projects.

The Senate bill directs grants to the University of Kentucky, Purdue University and Southern Illinois University for research on making gasoline from coal.

The House bill orders the Department of Energy to create the Arctic Engineering Research Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, and tells the Commerce Department to start a geophysical research facility in Barrow, Alaska.


Contact James Brosnan at brosnanj(at)

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