Outlines of a new energy policy

June 22, 1992

For too many years, this country has lacked a coherent energy policy. Now the House and Senate are finally working toward one. What is emerging, on the heels of the Rio summit on global warming, is a more conservation-minded, environmentally conscious U.S. energy approach.

The Senate passed its energy bill back in February, but its Finance Committee now has effectively amended that measure. Finance Committee provisions include:

* $1 billion in tax breaks to independent oil and gas producers;

* A cap on tax benefits for employer-provided parking subsidies;

* Higher benefits for employer-subsidized mass transit costs;

* Tax exclusions to utilities for energy-saving measures;

* Tax deductions for automobiles using alternative fuels;

* Permanent credits for solar, geothermal and ocean thermal energy production;

* Repeal of the controversial 10-percent luxury tax on private planes and yachts.

There are certain to be tough fights on the Senate floor. Yet what has emerged so far is close to the energy bill approved last month in the House on a 381-37 vote.

Both houses would order moratoriums on offshore oil drilling near the U.S. coast. The House bill would match Senate language streamlining the licensing of nuclear plants. The House also included tax incentives for renewable energy, automobiles using alternative fuels, energy conservation and mass transit.

Compromises will have to come on restructuring the uranium enrichment program, badly battered after shocking revelations of safety and environmental negligence. Both chambers want to tackle it, but the House version asks the utilities that benefited from the program to pay some of the costs of cleaning up old enrichment plants. The Senate did not. And a consensus appears strong enough to bypass the opposition of Nevada's two senators to federal studies leading to building a high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

The Bush administration, while cool about some aspects of the bill, is pushing for passage of the overall package. Energy Secretary James Watkins has hailed the measures as headed toward the most "comprehensive and balanced energy legislation. . . seen in 20 years." It's about time.

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