- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002


The Senate passed an energy bill yesterday that features tax breaks to conserve and produce energy and directs more use of ethanol, but rejects the Bush administration proposal to develop oil in part of an Arctic wildlife refuge.

Democrats were much more upbeat after the Senate approved the energy package on an 88-11 vote. The action sets up a showdown with the Republican-led House, which last year passed an energy bill that focused more on helping boost production, including drilling in the Alaska refuge.

Much of the Senate debate, which stretched over six weeks, centered on America's dependence on foreign oil and the security concerns over relying on the Middle East for much of its energy. Republicans argued for more domestic production, while most Democrats pushed conservation.

This legislation "should increase our energy independence," said Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. He called it "a far more responsible, progressive, consumer-friendly energy policy" than that outlined by the administration and passed by the House in August.

President Bush said that between the Senate bill and the House version there will be "the elements of a comprehensive energy policy."

Together, Mr. Bush said in a statement, the two bills "include the major conservation and environmentally responsible production measures needed to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy."

But there was no certainty that the sharp differences between the House and Senate bills would be overcome.

Senate Democrats said after yesterday's vote that they viewed the Arctic drilling issue as dead, while Republicans indicated they were intent on reviving it in the final bill they send to the president.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said the Senate bill marks "a major achievement" and praised Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican the chamber's most ardent supporter of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for not trying to obstruct the legislation.

Nevertheless, Democrats said the bill, which at times had appeared to be in danger of falling apart over a tax dispute as well as Arctic drilling, provides a broad balance between energy production and conservation, including help for consumers to better insulate their homes and buy more fuel-efficient windows.

"There's a lot in there that does increase energy production," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, citing tax breaks aimed at promoting fossil fuel and renewable energy development and incentives to build a natural gas pipeline in Alaska. At the same time, he said, it "moves us to more energy efficiency in the country."

Republicans said it still does too little to increase domestic oil production and reduce America's reliance on imports.

"We need more production across the board," said Mr. Lott, indicating that he expects the fight over Arctic drilling to resume as the Senate and House work out a compromise bill to send to the White House.

Mr. Lott lauded what he called "very significant tax incentives" contained in the Senate legislation. But the House-passed bill, which the Senate ignored, would funnel more tax breaks to energy production and open the Arctic refuge to drilling.

The Senate bill would provide $14 billion worth of tax breaks over 10 years, divided about evenly between help for renewable energy and conservation programs and the traditional fossil-fuel energy producers.

The House bill calls for $33 billion in tax incentives focused more heavily toward the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries.

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