- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

The Senate is at least a month away from passing a sweeping bill that would set a course for the nation’s energy policy, but a big hurdle was cleared last week.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, won a victory for nuclear power with the 50-48 defeat Tuesday of an amendment that would have killed a plan to subsidize the construction of new nuclear-power plants.

The plan, advanced by Mr. Domenici, would give the industry between $14 billion and $16 billion in loan guarantees. A bipartisan bloc of opponents criticized the guarantees as unnecessary.

“It’s not a question about whether someone is pro-nuclear or antinuclear,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and sponsor of the failed amendment, but whether “to put at risk the taxpayers of this country” with reactor projects that could flop.

Mr. Domenici has stressed for months that a new nuclear plant hasn’t been licensed in the United States since the partial meltdown of a reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island in 1979. The fear generated from that accident, which Mr. Domenici said was largely unwarranted, stalled the nuclear industry.

“The time has come to quit playing around with energy and say, ‘Wherever we can, we are going to produce more energy,’” Mr. Domenici said. Nuclear power has long been neglected, he said, and that has been “a giant mistake.”

“For the first time in modern history, we will adopt a pro-nuclear policy for the United States,” Mr. Domenici said. “This victory is a victory for American consumers. It is a victory for families and small businesses that worry about the cost of lights, heat and air conditioning. It is a victory for industries that have increasingly felt the impact of rising natural-gas prices on their bottom line. It is a victory for the tens of millions of Americans concerned about our environment and our climate.”

Marnie Funk, spokesman for Mr. Domenici, said final passage of the omnibus energy bill is not expected until late July. Among the major issues that remain are setting mileage standards for automobiles and provisions addressing climate change.

There are 313 slots for amendments to the bill, Mrs. Funk said.

“We’ll see how many the Democrats offer,” she said.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota hinted ato a bumpy road in the future by complaining about inadequate debate on the topic, though pointing out Democrats have “no desire to filibuster energy.”

“We spent five weeks on the floor debating energy last time,” Mr. Daschle said. “We had 144 amendments. It was only in the fifth week that I filed cloture and after that we had, I think, about 64 roll-call votes. So, clearly, this doesn’t even come close to the debate we had last year on energy.”

The Senate, under Democrat control in the last Congress, failed to pass an energy bill. Republicans blame that on Mr. Daschle, who brought it straight to the floor rather than going through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as Mr. Domenici has done.

This year has been “just one victory after another,” Mrs. Funk said.

One of the fiercest battles expected will be over amendments dealing with climate change. Mr. Domenici said, “It doesn’t belong on this bill, but someone will insist that we vote on it.”

“I believe whatever we pass will be something that the community at large in America, not the environmental community’s proposal, will pass,” Mr. Domenici said.

This report is based, in part, on wire service reports.

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