- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

House Republicans and Democrats yesterday accused each other of playing politics with gasoline prices in what will be a weeklong fight over Congress’s failure to pass a long-term energy policy.

House Republicans have dubbed this “Energy Week,” with members introducing several bills and spending hours in floor debates applying pressure to Senate Democrats and charging them with obstruction of the energy bill.

At a briefing with several Republican senators yesterday Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, applauded the House’s efforts to spur passage of the bill.

“We are here to urge Senate Democrats to help us pass the energy bill; to date, only 14 Democrats have voted for it,” Mr. Domenici said.

He acknowledged that Democrats say several Northeastern Republicans also are blocking the bill, but said that number pales against the 34 Senate Democrats who have refused to let the bill get a final Senate floor vote.

“It’s fine to talk about us, but we’re right to talk about them,” Mr. Domenici said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Republicans had brought about the impasse themselves because of their stances on limiting liability for manufacturers of the fuel additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).

“This MTBE liability immunity has been a disaster, forcing the taxpayers of 240 communities to pay upwards of $200 billion is wrong,” Mr. Daschle said.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, has insisted that MTBE producers get immunity from cases involving the product’s contamination of groundwater sources.

The government mandated that MTBE be used in gasoline to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. But when the product seeped into groundwater supplies and sickened thousands of Texas residents, producers were sued to the point of bankruptcy, with cleanup costs estimated at an additional $280 billion.

“I feel that in spite of that, there were many aspects of the bill that I felt merited my support for the legislation, but I can easily see why Republicans and Democrats would feel that’s too high a price to pay,” Mr. Daschle said.

Mr. DeLay said a decade has passed since a national energy policy had reached the president’s desk and urged Democrats to end their obstruction of a new policy that could carry the country for another 15 to 20 years.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the Republican arguments and bills are nothing but television reruns.

“This week, [Democrats] could send out press releases for our votes saying, ‘Remember what we did before, we’re doing it again,’” Mr. Hoyer said.

He said House Republicans have refused to compromise — using closed rules to limit or eliminate Democrat amendments to bills; putting bills on the floor without committee debates, votes or discussion; and meeting behind closed doors.

“We need to come together and work on legislation that can pass; … at bare minimum, we should have passed Title IV of the energy bill dealing with our electricity grid,” Mr. Hoyer said.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, began the week Monday by introducing the Gasoline Price Reduction Act.

Four more bills passed on the House floor yesterday including acts to build new U.S. oil refineries, make it easier to find places for renewable energy projects and allow oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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