- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The energy bill being debated in the Senate rests on several political bargains: oil drilling, global warming and, most of all, corn.

Those compromises been defended in a series of votes in the past week. Senators voted 52-44 yesterday on a provision for taking inventory of offshore oil and gas potential in exchange for more state control of exploration revenue. Also approved were voluntary incentives to the private sector to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think that when we get into conference the logical compromise would be for states like North Carolina, New Jersey and Florida, which do not want exploration off their coasts, not to have to do so,” said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, who supports the inventory but not at the expense of states’ rights.

The greenhouse gas provisions, which passed by a vote of 66-29, likely will head off efforts for lower mandatory caps on carbon emissions, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat. He said the vote was designed to provide political cover for Republicans who acknowledge global warming but don’t want to buck President Bush’s position that the evidentiary science is incomplete.

The global warming amendment essentially will offer energy companies direct loans, loan guarantees, and default and interest coverage to implement new technologies to reduce the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions. It also would create boards and committees to approve such research and call on the energy secretary to draft a climate-change strategy.

The legislation’s major compromise, however, is a requirement for states to mix at least 8 billion gallons of ethanol — an alcoholic byproduct of distilled corn — with gasoline each year to reduce harmful emissions by 2012.

That is crucial to winning support from the hefty bloc of senators from Midwestern states who were prepared to kill the energy bill without the ethanol standard. However, the provision jeopardizes the support of senators from Northeastern and Southwestern states that will have to pay for it.

“Renewable fuels are at the crux of economic growth and jobs, at the crux of energy security, at the crux of consumer benefit, at the crux of environmental quality,” said Sen. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican, who led the group of senators from the Midwest.

Other senators called the requirement heavy-handed bullying by big agriculture states, and one said it was a dual special interest subsidy for gas and corn. “They require you to buy more ethanol and if you don’t use ethanol, which you don’t have to do now, and some places don’t, you have to pay for it anyway,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who failed to gain enough support for his amendment to strip the mandate from the bill.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and a staunch fiscal conservative, called ethanol prime legislative pork and said the government would pay $4.5 billion in incentives for the 8-billion-gallon standard.

The House passed its version of the energy bill earlier this year. The Senate is expected to wrap up debate and vote on its version by the weekend.

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