WASHINGTON - The Senate found an unusual way yesterday to overcome differences that have stymied the passage of energy legislation: It went back to the bill passed last year and passed it again.
The surprise action moved Congress a step closer to final agreement on a White House priority - the first overhaul of the nation's energy policy in a decade. President Bush has pressed Congress to send him a bill, calling it vital to economic growth and national security.
The Senate vote of 84-14 cleared the way for negotiations on a compromise measure with the House, which passed its version of an energy bill in April.
"I guess you wonder why I'm smiling," said New Mexico Republican Pete V. Domenici, who as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee spent months drafting a bill only to see it scrapped. "I'll be rewriting the bill," he said, noting that he will preside over the negotiations. "We're in the majority. We'll write a completely different bill - a lot more production, a lot more nuclear and other kinds of energy."
Energy legislation died last year when the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic Senate came to loggerheads. But this year, both chambers are dominated by Republicans, who are eager to deliver on one of Bush's domestic priorities.
As an inducement to many Democrats, as well as many Republicans, to act, a final bill is virtually certain to include a measure, popular in farm states, to double the amount of corn-based ethanol added to the nation's gasoline supply.
Last year's Senate bill includes many of the provisions as the bill drafted this year. It would provide federal loan guarantees to spur construction of a $20 billion pipeline to carry Alaskan natural gas to the lower 48 states. It would offer close to $15 billion in tax incentives, roughly evenly divided between conservation and production measures. And it would extend a cap on the nuclear industry's liability in accidents.
But last year's bill does not include a number of provisions that were part of the scrapped GOP bill, among them federal loan guarantees to spur building of nuclear power plants, Bush's plan to speed the development of cars that run on pollution-free hydrogen fuel cells, and an inventory of offshore oil and natural gas reserves.
Environmentalists say the bill would fail to substantially reduce dependence on foreign oil.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.