- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

The House overwhelmingly passed the energy bill yesterday with a price tag that exceeds by nearly $8 billion the president’s initial wishes, but for the first time in four years it is expected to get Senate approval and become law.

President Bush will get his energy bill, what he called his No. 1 priority this year, but the higher cost will not deter him from signing the measure.

“This is a good bill,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “The president hopes Congress will move forward quickly over the next two days and get it to him so that he can sign it into law, because he does intend to sign it into law.”

The bill passed in the House by a 275-156 vote, with 75 Democrats joining 200 Republicans to support it. The Senate is expected to approve the measure today.

Mr. Bush sought an energy bill that would cost about $7 billion, but the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee members reached an agreement on tax breaks totaling $11 billion over the next five years. The bill also will require about $2.3 billion in direct spending, as well as other costs.

“The president made his terms well-known,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “There is always back and forth with Congress, and while we might not agree on every detail, this is a very good bill for consumers and the environment.

“The president wouldn’t agree to it if it would bust the budget.”

Both parties acknowledged gains and losses in a bipartisan effort.

Democrats expressed disappointment that the bill did not include immediate relief for high gasoline prices, global-warming initiatives or programs to reduce fuel consumption.

Republicans were unhappy that Congress did not deal with groundwater contamination by the mandated fuel additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), which petroleum refiners use to reduce harmful automobile emissions.

The bill does promote domestic oil production and construction of refineries, and limits the number of costly multi-blended fuels. It also includes numerous incentives to build nuclear power plants and calls for the annual use of 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol, a gas additive, by 2012.

The 1,725-page bill will streamline regulation of electricity generation by repealing the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, which over time has split the jurisdiction of energy markets and production among the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state licensing boards.

Chuck Patrizia, an energy lobbyist with the firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, applauded the repeal but said, “It is not a great bill because it offers financial incentives to companies that probably don’t need them. It does not immediately reduce our dependence on foreign oil or lower gas prices.”

The White House acknowledged shortcomings in the measure.

“We didn’t get into this overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it overnight,” Mr. McClellan said. “But what this does is it puts us on the path to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.”

Some Democrats oppose the legislation on those grounds.

“The energy bill Congress is about to pass is a pre-911 energy policy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat. “What everyone should have known that day is that energy is a national security issue and that the money we are paying for oil to some countries is paying for terrorist attacks against us.”

However, Mr. Wyden said he expects the “pork-laden” bill to pass the Senate by a wide margin.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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