- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

Senate Democrats yesterday failed to tack on their most important amendment to the proposed energy package, as Republicans snubbed partisan efforts to curb the country’s reliance on foreign oil.

The amendment introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, which failed on a 47-53 vote, would have called on the president to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil by 40 percent over the next 20 years. Opponents said the proposed energy bill already contains a provision to reduce the amount of foreign oil used in the United States through conservation and domestic production.

“The Democratic Caucus’ number one amendment was the Cantwell amendment,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign committee.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the Cantwell amendment was a better approach to curbing foreign dependence. He and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid held a press conference Monday promoting it as a national security issue.

Republicans said Democrats were overreaching, limiting Mr. Bush and potentially the next five presidents as well.

“It isn’t as if it does nothing to the president … it says, Mr. President, whoever you are — and it’s obvious it’s going to be this one — you send us, tell us how, give us a plan on how you’re going to reduce America’s consumption of crude oil by 40 percent by a year certain,” said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“Our cars would have to be the size of a golf cart, or we would have to make a breakthrough in the next 10 years on something that we have been working on for 40 or 50, and we haven’t made it yet.”

Meanwhile, a second bipartisan amendment to increase the number of renewable fuel sources used to create electricity and introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, passed by a vote of 52-48.

Mr. Bingaman, his party’s ranking member on the energy committee, said renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biomass powered plants, make up about 5 percent of the production of electricity and would reduce coal usage, which pollutes the air, and natural gas usage. But the real goal, he said, is to lower the cost of natural gas.

“The largest resource used to create electricity is coal; the next largest is, well it is nuclear now, but it is soon to be natural gas and that is a concern that all of us have as we have seen the price of natural gas go up sharply over the past few years,” Mr. Bingaman said.

Some Republicans said it would be easier and more cost-effective to use $18 billion in incentives to create more nuclear power, a proven reliable source that he said is increasingly safer to use with the advent of new technologies.

“Seventy percent of electricity today is created by nuclear power, so why are we not putting $2 billion into nuclear power?” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican. “The renewable portfolio standard is an $18 billion tax on the ratepayers; it is a new subsidy especially on wind development. And it is an unfunded federal mandate.”

He added that 17 states already are working to expand their use of renewable fuel sources and that the federal government should stay out of their way.

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