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Energy blueprint reflects industry, White House priorities
WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans are cobbling together an energy blueprint substantially more favorable to industry than a Senate-passed bill hailed by Democrats as a victory this summer.
From drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge to electric utilities' use of renewable fuels, pro-industry views are winning consistent support in negotiations on a final bill.
Democrats are complaining about being shut out from decision-making as the talks move toward a conclusion -- possibly by the end of this week -- on the first overhaul of the U.S. energy agenda in a decade.
Sen. Pete Domenici, chairman of the House-Senate negotiations, dismisses the Democrats' complaints. The GOP staff has "worked closely" in "open and bipartisan negotiations," said Domenici, R-N.M.
But he also said he wants to avoid the type of gridlock that prevented passage of a bill last year.
A senior Democrat involved in the talks said he is dismayed at the way Republican leaders are putting together the bill after the House and Senate approved different versions this year.
"Republicans ... expect (us) to ratify a final product that we have not yet seen," said Rep. John Dingell of Michigan.
The emerging plan reflects a greater tilt toward the energy industry, is more to the White House's liking and more represents the priorities of conservative House Republicans.
It is largely replacing the legislation passed by the Senate in July when GOP leaders, facing an impasse over their own bill, resurrected a measure approved in 2002 when Democrats were in the majority.
Domenici promised to rewrite the Senate-passed bill in negotiations with the House -- and that is what he is doing with Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., head of the House delegation.
"This bill will be a Christmas wish list for the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industry," predicts David Alberswerth, a natural resource specialist for the Wilderness Society.
As an example, Democrats point to the Senate bill's attempt to spur use of renewables in electricity generation.
The Senate had approved, despite vigorous opposition by the industry, a requirement that electric utilities produce 10 percent of their power from renewable fuels. This plan, however, never made the drafts during negotiations and will be abandoned.
Senators from both parties had supported a ban on the gasoline additive MTBE, which has been found to contaminate drinking water. A four-year phase-out was in the Senate bill, though not the House's.
Leading House members, including Tauzin and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, insisted on dropping the ban and giving makers of the petroleum-based additive a liability waiver in water contamination lawsuits.
The issue remains under discussion, though Tauzin and DeLay are close to getting what they want, according to industry sources following the talks.
Lee Fuller, a lobbyist for the independent oil and gas industry, says many of the measures included in the final bill are needed "to grapple with this longer term question" of developing adequate energy supply. He acknowledges that the Senate-passed bill largely is being abandoned.
One of the biggest beneficiaries will be the oil and gas industry.
The emerging bill renews the push to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, which the Senate has repeatedly rejected.
Domenici has said he will pull this provision if he is convinced that it will lead to a successful Democratic filibuster and jeopardize the entire bill.
But there is no such worry among Republicans over other pro-industry measures.
For example, Domenici and Tauzin have resurrected an idea, omitted from both the House and Senate bills, to order an inventory of oil and gas resources in coastal waters. Leading House opponents fear the inventory is a prelude to lifting bans on offshore drilling that have been in place for years.
The GOP drafts, which are unlikely to be significantly changed, also include: