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    Energy Bill In Critical Vote

    Coalition of Democrats and Republicans concerned about cost and environmental impact.

    WASHINGTON -- A far-reaching energy bill faced its biggest test in Congress -- after being passed by the House earlier in the week -- as a coalition of Democrats and Republicans threatened to derail it because of concerns about its impact on the environment and its hefty cost, reported the Associated Press.

    Senate GOP leaders said the outcome of a vote on whether to shut off debate on the legislation was too close to predict. Should supporters of the bill succeed in ending the filibuster threat, final action to send the measure to President Bush could come later in the day.

    The debate is over "allowing this country to get back into the business of producing energy," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. But a growing number of Democrats, with at least six Republicans, criticized the legislation, saying it cost too much, would dole out billions of dollars to special interests, and would hurt the environment, according to the report.

    Supporters need at least 60 votes to overcome the threatened filibuster and the claims of budget violations.

    Many Democrats, with five Republicans from New England, vowed to block the bill because it would shield makers of MTBE from product liability lawsuits and give the companies $2 billion over eight years to help them shift away from making the additive as it is phased out, the report stated.

    The bill, mostly written during a couple months of closed-door negotiations between House and Senate Republicans, contains hundreds of items sought by energy lobbyists, including tax breaks for oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries, plus tax credits for renewable energy and conservation.

    Among its major provisions:

    * Tax breaks of $13 billion for oil, gas and coal industries, and $5.5 billion for renewable energy sources -- wind, solar and biomass.

    * Mandatory reliability requirements for high-voltage power lines and incentives to spur power line production.

    * A requirement to double ethanol production for gasoline to 5 billion gallons a year by 2012.

    * Authority and financial help, including $18 billion in loan guarantees, to build a pipeline to bring natural gas from Alaska's North Slope.

    * Tax incentives for improving energy efficiency of homes and appliances, including a tax credit for buying hybrid gas-electric cars.

    * A requirement to speed up permits and ease some environmental rules to promote energy development on public lands.

    * A 10-year, $1 billion program to deal with "coastal erosion" for six states with offshore oil and gas production. Louisiana would get more than half of the money, the Associated Press reported.

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