- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Party leaders are optimistic they can overcome three years of failure and pass a national energy policy in the next two weeks, but they expect major battles over global warming, drilling royalties and nuclear production.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, said a new bipartisan approach to crafting the bill this year is working well. The top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, also of New Mexico, already has given the legislation his endorsement, a stark contrast to the party-line stalemates of the past three years.

“We started bipartisan in committee. We will work in a bipartisan way on the floor, and we will go to conference bipartisan,” Mr. Domenici said.

Mr. Bingaman said the bill, which passed out of committee, meets his four criteria for a good bill — to increase supply, improve efficiency, reduce the impact of production and consumption on the environment, and provide consumers with a transparent marketplace.

Despite good graces between Democrats and Republicans, parochial turf battles over offshore drilling and ethanol-based fuels remain an obstacle. In addition, the recent emphasis British Prime Minister Tony Blair placed during a trip here last week on tackling global warming has emboldened senators who want to push climate-change legislation.

President Bush is opposed to taking substantial action until more concrete evidence is found regarding the effect carbon gas emissions have on the environment.

But the odds may be stacked against the president as Mr. Domenici is looking to advance legislation to increase nuclear-energy production.

“If we want to limit carbon gases, we have to be able to generate base-core power, and certainly nuclear is the option, and Senator Domenici sees that,” said a top energy committee staffer, who added that “it is very possible we will see a deal.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, will be pushing legislation requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to promulgate regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity-generation, transportation, industrial and commercial sectors of the economy.

“I am working to see if there is something we can come up with,” Mr. Domenici said. “But my standpoint is different from the bill Senators McCain and Lieberman have and are committed to.”

The House version of the bill provides funding for increased wind, solar and hydrogen power, as does the Senate’s. But they differ on federal support for production of ethanol — a fuel produced from corn — with the Senate supporting 8 billion gallons and the House 5 billion. Major agricultural states like South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Indiana want to give their corn farmers the biggest boost possible, and Mr. Domenici said he expects the 8-billion-gallon standard “will stick.”

The final hurdle that must be overcome involves the turf battle between the states that border the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, has been fighting to get more royalties from the offshore oil and natural gas her state produces and to increase production, a position Mr. Bingaman and Mr. Domenici agree with.

“I favor more development of oil and gas offshore, and we should be pursuing drilling in certain areas,” Mr. Bingaman said.

But Florida, a state that relies on tourism dollars, fears for its beaches if a spill occurs and has blocked such efforts. The president’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, has proposed making permanent the 200-mile buffer. Mr. Domenici said: “If he has it now, we are not going to take it away from him.”

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