Senate OKs sweeping energy bill

Measure draws bipartisan support, but faces tough negotiations with House

June 29, 2005|By Mary Curtius | Mary Curtius,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The Senate overwhelmingly approved a sweeping overhaul of the nation's energy policy yesterday today that would provide $18 billion in tax breaks over the next decade aimed at encouraging energy efficiency and the development of ethanol and other renewable fuels.

The Senate measure would offer incentives to encourage the construction of nuclear power plants and require that such renewable sources as wind, solar or biomass generate 10 percent of the electricity that utilities produce by 2010.

The bill would also require U.S. gasoline refiners to double the amount of ethanol additive used in fuel to 8 billion gallons by 2012.

Although the bill was adopted by a strongly bipartisan 85-12 vote, its Senate supporters acknowledged that tough negotiations lie ahead with the House, as the chambers seek to reconcile the Senate bill with a less costly energy measure passed in April by the House.

The Senate measure places more emphasis on encouraging the development of alternative and renewable sources of energy than does the House measure.

The Senate bill is silent on the House's provision to partially shield producers of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, from lawsuits arising from the gasoline additive, which has been found to contaminate ground water. A dispute over MTBE helped kill the 2003 energy bill.

The Senate bill also includes no provisions to sell leases in a small area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that would allow oil and gas drilling there, as the House bill does.

"Our pledge in going to the House is this time we're going to get an energy policy that both houses will agree upon and take it to the president of the United States. That's urgent," Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, said at a news conference after the vote. "It does not do any good for the American people to pass it in the Senate and not pass it in the House."

Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, supported the bill.

Negotiations between the chambers are expected to begin in earnest after the July Fourth recess. President Bush has urged Congress to get a bill to him by August.

With gas prices remaining near an all-time high and the summer vacation travel season under way, the White House is eager to have Bush sign the legislation, a key policy priority that has languished in Congress for four years.

Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman, who appeared with Domenici and other senators after the vote, said Bush had instructed him to help negotiators reach agreement, and to ensure that the bill's costs stay close to the $7 billion Bush supports.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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