- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The House yesterday passed a massive overhaul of U.S. energy policy that is backed by President Bush and includes broad incentives for developing fossil fuels and some enticements for renewable energy.

The bill, written by Republican leaders in the House and Senate with the final deal brokered by the administration, passed 246-180.

“It is about our peace of mind and daily security — energy security, economic security, even our national security,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

“To have good energy policy we have to have investment. We have to put capital where capital can be invested. This bill does exactly that; this bill makes a difference. This bill is bold, and it’s the right thing to do.”

But the proposal still faces its toughest test in the U.S. Senate, possibly later this week, where Democrats and some Republicans are considering whether to try to block the measure.

“Most of the members I talked to this morning have yet to be able to see most of the language,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. “They’re still making their evaluation, as am I, and will not be in a position to decide until at least they’ve had that chance to look at it.”

The bill is a compromise between the House and Senate, hammered out in closed-door meetings by Republicans, and Democrats complained they were excluded.

They said the resulting bill misses the chance to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable-energy sources.

“The Republican energy bill is a recipe for disaster, ignores the public interest by catering solely to the special interest, and defrauds the American consumer,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The bill includes $23 billion in tax breaks over the next decade, most of which would go to the coal, oil and natural gas industries. The Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the bill at $32 billion over 10 years, as a result of the spending increases and lost revenue, in addition to the tax incentives.

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the bill “will cost Americans more than $142 billion over the next 10 years.”

The White House had initially said it wanted a much smaller set of tax incentives, but the president yesterday praised the bill and the House for passing it, calling it “a top priority for my administration.”

“America will be more prosperous and more secure when we are less dependent on foreign sources of energy,” Mr. Bush said. “Reliable and affordable energy is critical to our economic security, our national security, and our homeland security.”

The Senate test remains, with many members upset over language that would shield makers of a gasoline additive, MTBE, from some suits in federal court. Plaintiffs charge MTBE is contaminating drinking water.

Two Senate Democrats said yesterday they are considering a filibuster against the bill, but Republican leaders said they expect to pass the measure.

Republicans hope to entice Democratic support from corn-growing regions by doubling the requirement of ethanol added to gasoline, and from coal-mining regions because of tax-break provisions included in the bill.

The coal provisions garnered the support in the House yesterday of Democrats like Rep. Rick Boucher, whose Southwest Virginia district relies on coal mining.

“The bill before us contains tax provisions that will make a new generation of clean-coal technology more affordable,” he said.

He and 45 other Democrats joined 200 Republicans in voting for the measure, while 25 Republicans, 154 Democrats and the chamber’s independent voted against it.

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