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House and Senate Panels Tackle Energy Measures

By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 13, 2005; Page A04

The House Energy and Commerce Committee plowed through numerous proposed amendments yesterday while trying to draft an energy bill that can attract widespread support, after repeated failures by Congress to pass legislation embracing Bush administration energy initiatives.

The new measure, similar to a version that failed in 2003, would provide billions of dollars' worth of incentives for increased domestic energy production, development of alternative energy sources and other programs. The administration, which has sought enactment of a national energy policy for more than four years, has been pressing Congress to approve the bill.

The House Resources Committee today is to consider related legislation to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling -- a proposal that the Senate has repeatedly rejected. But the Senate, with an enhanced Republican majority, voted in favor of drilling as part of a new budget resolution last month.

The Senate, meanwhile, is considering an energy bill that is significantly different from the huge 2003 measure, as GOP leaders eagerly seek Democratic support. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) has not yet unveiled a draft version or scheduled action on a bill.

Consideration of the legislation comes at a time of rising energy costs, especially for crude oil and gasoline.

During House committee action yesterday, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) won approval of an amendment that would stop oil from being added to the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve until prices fall below $40 a barrel for two weeks in a row on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices have risen above $50, and supporters of the change said it would put more oil on the market and help bring down prices.

Democrats failed in an effort to remove language added to this year's energy bill that would give federal regulators ultimate authority over approving liquefied natural gas terminals, which handle imports by tanker and often run into local opposition because of safety concerns. Some states have tried to assert authority over terminal locations.

Supporters of giving power to federal regulators said doing so is necessary to ensure enough terminals are approved. "We're going to have to use more gas," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "We're going to have to permit more of these facilities."

Democrats also failed to add language that would have set national standards for the amount of renewable energy that needs to be produced. Some states have set such requirements, and supporters of the measure said it would encourage more production. Opponents argued that the amendment would increase costs and improperly exempt municipal power companies.

As a result of an amendment approved last week, the bill would extend daylight saving time by two months as a way to save electricity.

The bill also includes a controversial provision that would protect producers of a gasoline additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), from liability lawsuits over groundwater pollution. The measure also sets mandatory standards for electricity transmission in an effort to improve reliability.

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