- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

In mid-July, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was determined to pass an energy bill (S. 14)- so much so that he promised to delay the August recess by weeks if necessary. “We must pass a bill as soon as possible to establish a clear national energy policy which will reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” he said. At the beginning of last week, he had reportedly made plans to delay an overseas trip until the bill could be passed.

Then, last Wednesday, after admitting the bill had bogged down, he tried to cut off debate with a cloture petition. Finally, late last Thursday night, he successfully lobbied his fellow Republicans to vote for the energy bill (H.R. 6) that passed the chamber last year — when Tom Daschle was majority leader. As a consequence, the bill that passed is clearly not as good as the bill that Senate Republicans had been fighting for months. This page was only lukewarm in support of S. 15, since it would have only made for marginal improvements in energy access and energy production.

The bill that passed contains even fewer energy-production provisions. While neither S. 14 nor H.R. 6 contained language opening a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration, H.R. 6 also lacks the stimulus sorely needed by the nuclear industry. Even worse, it contains a renewable portfolio standard, which will require utilities to generate 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2010. Adding potential injury, it also contains numerous subsidies for renewable energy.

While the bill does contain some provisions for the Alaska natural gas pipeline, it does little to address the ongoing shortage of natural gas. It would require refineries to use double the amount of ethanol in gasoline over the next decade, and it loosens the reins on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Perhaps most odiously, it contains several titles on climate change, which could lead to high energy prices instead of higher energy production.

On the plus side, the House bill is far more oriented toward energy production, and Republicans will have far more control over the conference committee. In a statement released shortly after the bill passed, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici said, “I promise you we will write many of this year’s energy provisions into the bill at conference. We will do more for production. We will do more for research.” Good.

He and his colleagues will have plenty of work ahead to produce a better-balanced bill. There is also the possibility that, should some production provisions slip through in the absence of additional ethanol subsidies, Mr. Daschle will feel obligated to filibuster the bill that emerges from conference. The last seems unlikely since Mr. Daschle opened his re-election campaign with a commercial proclaiming that he “is close to passing new energy legislation that would triple ethanol production in South Dakota.”

Understanding the difficulty of getting any energy bill through the narrowly divided Senate, the legislation that passed may have been the best Mr. Frist could have done. However, it is unfortunate that Mr. Frist, who in July was roaring like a lion, is going out like a lamb.



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