Senators began plowing through an energy bill yesterday that would include stronger conservation measures than those already approved by the House and would exclude drilling in part of an Alaska wildlife refuge.
A string of provisions, from giving consumers rebates on energy-efficient appliances to expanding the size of the government’s emergency petroleum reserve, were to be taken up by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week, beginning with yesterday’s session.
Most of these issues already have been worked out in discussions in recent weeks between Republican and Democratic panel members and were expected to be part of the legislation without significant changes, committee staffers said.
The panel’s two-hour meeting yesterday focused on American Indian energy issues, including actions that were aimed at making it easier for tribes to develop their energy resources.
More contentious matters were expected to be taken up next week or put off until floor action this summer. These matters include sites for liquefied-natural-gas terminals, subsidies for the nuclear-power industry, whether to allow states to petition the federal government to allow energy development in off-limits coastal waters, and whether to require all utilities to use a certain amount of renewable fuels to produce electricity.
President Bush has called on Congress to produce a comprehensive energy bill by August. The House passed a bill last month, but its prospects in the Senate — where energy legislation died two years ago — remain uncertain.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and panel chairman, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, also of New Mexico, the committee’s ranking Democrat, agreed to leave out of the Senate bill any mention of oil development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), or protection for the makers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) from liability lawsuits.
Both are part of a House-passed bill, but were viewed as likely to jeopardize Senate passage if included in the legislation.
Mr. Domenici and Mr. Bingaman said they were hoping to advance legislation that can be widely supported by both parties.
Mr. Domenici, noting that Congress has tried for five years to enact energy legislation and has failed, said he would like to see increases in automobile fuel economy or measures to curtail carbon emissions linked to climate change, but said the votes “do not appear to be there … especially in the House.”