- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

Congress appears to be in the last stages of negotiations on a comprehensive energy bill. The nation needs such legislation, but while compromises should be sought, the final language must promote energy production.

Lawmakers are still debating subsides for ethanol and the Alaska natural gas pipeline, electricity market provisions and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy exploration. Compromise seems likely on many of those points. On electricity, lawmakers might not compel power companies to join regional transmission organizations, but will encourage them to do so through tax incentives. Agreement also seems likely on the gasoline additives ethanol and MTBE. Subsidies for the natural gas pipeline have caused policy-makers some consternation, and the bill’s total tax breaks have caused the administration some concern. Mr. Bush has called for conferees to hold the breaks to $8 billion, less than half of what was in the original House bill.

Compromise seems less likely on ANWR. Republicans have tried to counter an expected Democratic filibuster by loading the bill with pork. However, there might not be enough energy projects in the nation to produce a filibuster-proof majority.

Democrats have complained that they have not sufficient input into the final bill. That seems specious, since the provisions of the bill have been in play for some time, and Republicans made concessions on several points. However, hypocrisy has been seen on both sides. For instance, Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, recently complained to Congressional Quarterly, “We’ve been working on this, talking about it for three years, and we’ve produced nothing.” Yet, according to a report Sunday in The Washington Post, Mr. Lott recently informed his colleagues on the conference committee that he would not support the bill unless he was “satisfied” that it contained a provision putting state utilities in charge of choosing the parties that pay for upgrading electrical infrastructure. Regardless of the merits of Mr. Lott’s position, his stubbornness contributed to the bill’s delay.

Other legislators have been equally adamant in defending the interests of their constituents. Perhaps the only thing that all the parties agree with is that the bill has become an unseeming catalogue of subsides and payoffs. While some pork-barreling is the price of doing business in Washington, legislative sausage-makers need to show at least a little restraint in these final negotiations.

Yet, the nation’s energy needs are profound. The August blackout highlighted the nation’s aging electrical infrastructure. Periodic power price spikes do the same for America’s dependence on foreign oil and its tight supplies of natural gas. Nuclear plants are quietly aging into obsolescence. The development of new energy sources has been hesitant, even as the demand for energy supplies has grown unabashedly.

Statesmanship is called for on this last legislative stretch. Congressmen must come to compromises that encourage energy production — even if it means going against the short-term interests of their constituents. As President Bush urged last Friday, “For the sake of national security and for the sake of economic security,” Congress needs to get an energy bill to his desk soon.

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