- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

Republicans’ desire to pass a comprehensive energy bill in the Senate by the end of the week is imperiled by as many as 100 amendments offered by Democrats, the stickiest of which tighten fuel-efficiency requirements for automobiles and address global warming.

Senate leaders from both parties will meet with President Bush at the White House today in an effort to get the bill completed on schedule.

The energy bill technically has 392 slots for proposed amendments. If Democrats are determined to delay passage until September, they can use every one available.

“If they fill all those slots, they’re not serious about getting a bill finished,” said Bob Stevenson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

He said Republicans have worked to whittle down their own list of amendments. “If they’re not going to cut back, then it’s a filibuster by another name.”

Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, said the prospect of debating hundreds of Democratic amendments is “ridiculous.”

“We’ve been around the track many times,” Mr. Nickles said. “There is no reason why we can’t complete the bill [this] week.”

Bill Wicker, spokesman for Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said “between 70 and 100 amendments” are expected to be offered, most of them from Democrats. He said they have little choice but to take their concerns to the Senate floor.

“If some of this were dealt with in the committee process, there wouldn’t be quite as many amendments,” Mr. Wicker said. “There is a long list of senators who have legitimate concerns that ought to be given a debate.”

The Senate will begin debating fuel-efficiency standards today after completing votes involving trade policy and a few federal judge nominees.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, wants to mandate that automakers create and sell vehicles that average 40 miles per gallon by 2014, a huge increase over today’s average of 25 miles per gallon. Mr. Durbin also has offered an amendment that would impose a tax on cars that fail to meet those standards — as much as $7,700 if a vehicle falls 14 miles per gallon short of the goal.

“The Durbin amendments on [corporate average fuel economy] standards would have a devastating impact on the automobile industry,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.

Mr. Durbin’s amendments are considered long shots for passage because of a looser standard pushed by Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, that has bipartisan support.

Mr. Levin said his amendment would not allow the Senate to pick an “arbitrary number” for fuel efficiency, but would allow the auto industry — a key constituent in Michigan — and federal regulators to jointly determine the benefits of increasing mileage as well as the costs in money and safety.

“[My] approach preserves the appropriate balance between development of near-term technologies for fuel-economy improvement, and the development of promising longer-term projects,” Mr. Levin said. “We use greater incentives. We use partnerships. We use less of these arbitrary mandates.”

Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, ranking Democrat on the energy panel, will offer an amendment as early as today that would require utilities to generate at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, by 2020.

Mr. Bingaman presented a study that showed the plan would cost $4.9 billion by 2030. Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and chairman of the committee, said the Energy Information Agency estimated the cost could range between $36 billion and $100 billion.

Mr. Wicker said Mr. Bingaman’s amendment garnered 58 votes last year, and might have enough to pass again this year.

“Of all the [Democratic] amendments, that one I would have to say looks like it’s got a fairly good prospect for passing,” Mr. Wicker said.

Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, plans to offer an amendment that would tighten pollution standards on older power plants. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, has drafted an amendment that would set mandatory targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, to battle what he sees as the cause of global warming.


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