- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 23, 2007

Senate Democrats yesterday hailed the passage of far-reaching energy legislation, saying they will give America a “greener energy supply.”

“This is a step in the direction of saying, ‘Big oil doesn’t own this country,’ ” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The bill, which passed late Thursday 65-27 and still must clear some hurdles in the House, mandates better gas mileage for cars and sport utility vehicles, more biofuel production and higher energy efficiency standards for home appliances.

It also requires energy savings in federal buildings and vehicles, supports research to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants and makes gasoline price gouging a federal crime during “energy emergencies.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat who led the push for higher gas mileage, said motorists will save about $13 on a tank of gas and drive 100 to 150 miles farther between fill-ups.

“Democrats want to change the direction of energy policy in America,” she said at a press conference with Mr. Reid. “Democrats want a more green energy supply.”

Mr. Reid called the legislation, which attracted support from 43 Democrats, 20 Republicans and two independents, a bipartisan effort. He nevertheless criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, for trying to kill the bill, which was opposed by 23 Republicans and four Democrats.

Mr. McConnell, who voted against the bill and on the Senate floor urged his colleagues to do the same, did not whip the vote or make the defeat of the bill a caucus priority, a Republican leadership aide said.

Mr. McConnell and other critics say the bill doesn’t increase energy supplies or make a dent in today’s high gas prices, and might even have the opposite effect.

“This bill will raise energy prices for American families at the gas pump and on their utility bills,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who voted no. “This bill does nothing to increase our domestic energy supply. Instead it increases regulation and bureaucracy that will raise energy costs on American families and businesses.”

Several key provisions in the Senate energy bill were stripped from the House version by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to avoid a clash with Rep. John D. Dingell, the Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee who opposes higher automobile gas-mileage requirements.

Democrats will have to hammer out a deal on corporate average fleet economy (CAFE) standards — and other contentious issues including biofuels — in a conference committee to merge the House and Senate bills.

“We have a lot more to do,” Mr. Reid said. “The fights are not over.”

U.S. automakers, who rely on SUV sales, say improving gas mileage requirements will give Japanese companies an advantage.

Under the legislation, CAFE standards would go from the current 25 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

The oil industry says mandates for five times more ethanol — 36 billion gallons a year by 2022 — will drive up the price at the pump. Businesses from poultry to soda pop that use corn share the concern, saying more corn-based ethanol will inflate the price of their products.

Earlier, the chamber’s Republicans blocked $29 billion in new taxes on oil and natural-gas production, which they said would be passed on to consumers at the gas station.

The tax package would have used the revenue to help pay for $32.1 billion in tax credits and other incentives for renewable and alternative energy. The subsidies would have aided production of new biofuels, use of plug-in hybrid vehicles and development of wind, solar and hydroelectric power.

Democratic leaders plan to return to the tax bill again this session, possibly attaching it to upcoming agriculture and tax bills.

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