- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The Senate is set to begin debate on overhauling national energy policy today, the start of a long process that promises more than 100 amendments, many of which will attempt to impose stricter controls on energy consumption.Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he is determined to pass an omnibus energy bill after the Democrat-controlled Senate did not pass one last year.He ushered the bill through committee quickly last month by forcing senators who wanted to add amendments involving climate change, renewable-fuel requirements, ethanol production and automobile-efficiency standards to take their fight to the Senate floor.”He did it in 105 days,” said Marnie Funk, spokeswoman for Republicans on the energy committee. “For a new chairman to get a bill out on the floor just 72 hours after [it passed the committee] is remarkable. We’re ahead of schedule.”The current phase, however, might go through June, Miss Funk said.Democrats complained during the bill’s markup that their concerns were being ignored and plan to remedy that on the Senate floor. One energy-industry lobbyist predicts that 60 to 70 Democratic amendments will be offered Thursday, when Sen. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican, starts the process with a proposal to double the mandate for ethanol production to 5 billion gallons a year by 2012.”Anything involving ethanol is going to prompt lots of other senators who are not of the same mind on the issue,” said Bill Wicker, spokesman for energy committee Democrats, adding that senators who do not live in major agriculture states worry that ethanol mandates would increase the price of gas for their constituents.Another major battle will be about reducing greenhouse gases, which many scientists say lead to global warming. President Bush prefers a voluntary market-based approach, and Democrats have pressed for stricter controls.Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, said, “A topic of key importance to our side was shunted aside” in committee and that he plans to offer an amendment to set mandatory limits if the voluntary approach doesn’t achieve results.Democratic proponents of limits on carbon dioxide emissions might be able to count on the support of several Republicans — Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana — who have come out in favor of measures to reduce greenhouse gases in the past.Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, promised to fight to force automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of sport utility vehicles by 30 percent in eight years, a measure critics say would result in vehicles that are more expensive but less safe and desirable to consumers.”I will try again on the Senate floor,” Mrs. Feinstein said after she was denied a vote on her amendment in committee last week.Miss Funk disputes Democrats’ criticism of the Republican bill as being light on renewable-fuel sources and heavy on oil and gas production. She points to $19 billion in tax incentives for cleaner-fuel alternatives.”We have always planned to amend this bill with the Energy Tax Credit Act of 2003 that is heavily weighted toward renewables,” Miss Funk said.


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