Saturday, September 6, 2003

House Republican leaders yesterday warned Democrats not to get in the way of passing their comprehensive energy plan this year.

“Anyone who stands in the way of this one ought to get burned in the next election cycle,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin said.

The Louisiana Republican said Democrats should not repeat the past, when there was “slow-rolling” of the process because they wanted to avoid, “giving someone an energy victory at the White House.”

“Democrats ignored this issue until it became a crisis,” stated House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. He said now it is time for Democrats to “join with us to enact a comprehensive energy bill.”

House and Senate energy conferees met for the first time yesterday to make their opening remarks. Republican leaders from both chambers said they plan to turn around a conference report quickly to avoid last year’s stalemate.

Mr. Tauzin and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete V. Domenici, the New Mexico Republican chairing the conference, want to pass a bill that moves the country away from dependence on foreign oil, encourages more production of natural gas, oil, coal and renewable energy sources and improves the nation’s electricity system.

Many Democrats, however, would like to set the comprehensive bill aside for now and just pass the electricity part of it, which is designed to prevent future blackouts like the one that hit the Northeast and Midwest in August.

The main proponent of this approach — ranking House Energy and Commerce Democrat John D. Dingell of Michigan — said electricity problems should be dealt with apart from the larger bill, which he said would inevitably become bogged down in other contentious issues, as it has in the past.

Mr. Dingell asserted that Americans, “do not want common-sense answers to be delayed or held hostage as we debate unrelated controversial provisions that have had the practical effect of killing this legislation for the last eight or nine years.”

But Republicans want a comprehensive plan. Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, said “Band-Aids” won’t solve the energy problem.

“This is our chance,” he said.

Mr. Tauzin is optimistic that the conference will produce a comprehensive bill in the next month or so, and both he and Mr. Domenici said they would not have to hold a lot of meetings to accomplish it.

Mr. Tauzin said much of the current bill was hashed out during last year’s conference. This would leave conference members only five or six tough issues to haggle over, he added.

Among the key issues holding up last year’s debate was whether to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The House energy bill includes this but it has not been able to make it through the Senate.

Frank Maisano, energy consultant at Bracewell & Patterson, said House Republicans could use the refuge as a bargaining chip with Democrats during conference negotiations, agreeing to give up on it if Democrats compromise on other issues.

Members also must decide the best way to upgrade the nation’s electricity system.

Another contentious issue is so-called renewable portfolio standards, which require utilities to get a certain portion of their power from renewable energy sources. The House energy bill does not include this provision, but it is favored by some in the Senate.

“It’s going to have a harder time getting into this bill, but there are some senators who really want it,” Domenici spokeswoman Marnie Funk said.

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