- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

The Senate’s party leaders cut a deal last week to get an altered version of the energy bill passed quickly, but the energy committee’s ranking Democrat said the bill is dead on arrival.

The legislation scales down corporate tax incentives, and now comes with a $14 billion price tag, a vast savings compared with the estimated $31 billion-plus cost of the old bill, said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“We shaved off half the cost and still pump more than 800,000 new jobs into our economy,” Mr. Domenici said. “The tax incentives for renewable energy, coupled with ethanol, clean coal and natural-gas provisions create every single job the old energy bill would have created.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist introduced the bill late Thursday night. Mr. Frist and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle have agreed to put the bill before members to test the waters and see if it can be passed quickly with a minimum number of amendments.

Senate and House Republicans have disagreed on several aspects of the energy bill since it was introduced for a third time last year.

Republicans went behind closed doors to settle their differences, coming out with a much-larger-than-expected bill in November, but House and Senate Democrats immediately opposed the legislation, upset about being shut out of the conference process.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat and ranking member on the energy committee, said the closed-door deal this time around has blocked any chance of a strong, bipartisan bill. However, Mr. Bingaman said if the bill does pass the Senate, it will have to go back to the House for consideration, where it will surely die.

“It’s hard to see how this is a logical step toward enacting energy legislation this year,” Mr. Bingaman said. “The House Republican leadership reportedly will not accept a new comprehensive energy bill from the Senate.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, has promised to fight against the deal his Senate colleagues made to drop legal-liability protection for makers of MTBE, a water-polluting gasoline additive.

Mr. Bingaman said it is unlikely the bill would even make it to the House.

“The legislation was written unilaterally, with no consultation with Democrats. It contains numerous provisions that probably will not enjoy majority support in the Senate,” Mr. Bingaman said.

Only a few Senate Democrats were on board to begin with, mostly because of special considerations for their states.

Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who is up for re-election this year, needs the bill to pass to open up an expanding ethanol market for corn growers in his state.

A provision allowing coastal states that gain oil and gas proceeds through offshore drilling to use that money for environmental improvements was good news for Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat. But that provision, worth some $6.7 billion, was dropped to shave costs from the bill.

“The coastal states should get a portion of the $6 billion we provide. I mean, if you can’t use your oil and gas revenues to reinvest into environmental protections, what can you use?” Mrs. Landrieu said in an interview Thursday.

Other cost savings were created by pushing certain tax provisions back a year.

Mrs. Landrieu said she is nearly ready to have up-or-down votes on individual provisions, if they are necessary to avoid losing the entire bill for a third straight year.

But the bill still costs more than the Bush administration said it will support, Mr. Bingaman noted.

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