Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday opened debate on energy legislation by blaming President Bush for skyrocketing gasoline prices and pledging Democrats would break U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
"On the president's watch, the cost of gas and home heating has doubled," Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said in a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank.
"It is time for bold steps and big ideas. Time for innovation," he said. "We're not getting it from the White House, but that won't stop us because innovation is exactly what Americans do best."
Critics say the energy bill, which is expected to dominate Senate business for two weeks, is long on promised energy savings but short on results.
The most contentious provision in the bill is a proposal to increase the average fuel efficiency of U.S. automobiles to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, raising the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard for the first time in 30 years. Light trucks would be included in the standard.
Last month, Mr. Bush proposed increasing the supply of alternative fuels and making motor vehicles more energy-efficient, which included revising CAFE standards.
The Senate energy bill also aims to increase biofuel use by 2022, make energy price gouging a federal crime, develop wind and solar energy and set higher energy efficiency standards for federal buildings and vehicles.
The legislation was criticized at a Senate Republican Conference meeting yesterday for not helping create new energy resources or reduce fuel costs, meeting participants said.
Republican leaders said they do not plan to filibuster the bill as Mr. Reid said he had heard.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, later told reporters that lengthy debate "doesn't mean anyone is trying to derail it."
He said the energy bill was "a good idea and an important issue, [but] I doubt in the end it will be as significant an energy bill as everyone would like."
Democrats campaigned heavily last year on addressing soaring prices at the pump. Detractors said the energy bill lacks policy to achieve that goal, such as efforts to expand the number of gasoline refineries.
"It's more or less a no-energy bill," said a Republican leadership aide. "The plan is to go forward and work to improve it."
Mr. Reid said the bill was a "starting point" that would promote energy efficiency and drive investment in clean, renewable power.