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Rough Seas For Energy Bills

Congress is off to troubled start in energy debate

by Jeff Johnson
June 25, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 26

ENERGY LEGISLATION stalled last week in Congress, running into sharp disagreements among members. As the week neared an end, the fate of key energy provisions appeared in doubt.

On June 20 in the House, a 13-hour marathon bill markup by the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy & Air Quality stretched into the night with strong views expressed but little action taken. Even seemingly straightforward energy efficiency provisions absorbed seven hours of subcommittee time.

The markup itself was controversial and moved forward only after Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reached an agreement to avoid difficult energy issues—particularly, vehicle efficiency requirements—until fall, when the committee intends to take up a broader bill.

On the Senate side, last week marked the second of on-again, off-again floor debates over a 277-page energy bill. But the bill appears in jeopardy due to member disagreements, and as in the House, vehicle efficiency standards were particularly thorny for senators.

As the week began, Democratic leaders, such as Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the bill's floor manager, predicted a vote by week's end, but that proved impossible.

Bingaman blamed the delay on Republican stalling and as an example held up the fate of a renewable energy provision he long supported and sought to add to the legislation. The provision is similar to several state laws and calls for utilities to generate 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. However, it is strongly opposed by power companies that back an alternative sponsored by New Mexico's other senator, Pete V. Domenici (R).

Domenici's amendment would set a 20% standard by 2020 but would allow it to be met by nuclear energy, which currently supplies 20% of the nation's electricity. After two days of debate, an impasse was reached when the Senate voted to table Domenici's amendment and Domenici promised a filibuster over Bingaman's proposal, which was then pulled from the floor.



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