- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

After years of effort and untold hours of negotiations, lawmakers appear (as we go to press) to have reached substantive agreement on the language of the comprehensive energy bill. It is critical that the remaining issues be resolved, and that the bill be sent to the president as soon as possible. Although it does not contain as many production provisions as it might, its passage will improve the nation’s energy posture (and thus its security) substantially.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert stepped in after the bill’s building consensus threatened to collapse. Fearing that further delay would mean failure, they rightly insisted that the bill be comprehensive and that it be finished promptly.

To resolve the remaining issues, they held a series of meetings this week. Mr. Frist and Minority Leader Tom Daschle apparently solved their differences at one meeting, and the rest were largely settled at a meeting of House and Senate leadership yesterday afternoon. (Although the possibility still exists that Senate Democrats may filibuster the conference report, notwithstanding Mr. Daschle’s apparent support of the bill.) Disagreements were sharp on subsidies for the Alaska natural gas pipeline, rules for the electricity grid and liability protection for manufacturers of the fuel additive MTBE. The Alaska delegation requested a series of subsidies, including a taxpayer-funded floor on the price of natural gas for the pipeline. However, the price supports were opposed by House Republicans and the administration, and so will not be in the final bill. Splits in the Republican conference over the bill’s electricity titles were largely averted. MTBE apparently caused the greatest contention, with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay determined to shield MTBE producers, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle determined to punish them.

Mr. Daschle ran campaign commercials touting the energy bill’s ethanol subsidies this summer, and many Republicans had hoped that those subsidies would push Mr. Daschle (and other Midwestern senators) to allow a provision opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy exploration. Unfortunately, the Senate still seems a few votes shy of the filibuster-proof majority needed, and even an ANWR-less bill is still substantially better than no bill at all.

The same could be said for several other provisions, which while desirable, are not worth sacrificing the bill for. After all, the bill contains many needed measures, ranging from improvements to the electricity grid to renewal of the Price-Anderson Act, which limits nuclear reactor plant liability.

It has been over a decade since a comprehensive energy bill passed Congress, and almost two and one half years since the president’s energy policy group made its recommendations. Subsequently, the nation has experienced natural gas shortages, gasoline price spikes and electricity blackouts — proof of the need for such legislation.

Notwithstanding the fractious debate and the subsidies for special interests they have tried to secure, it is now time for lawmakers to put the nation’s interest first — to push aside remaining disagreements and pass the comprehensive energy legislation.

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