Congressmen Back Off Bid That Delayed Energy Bill

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Two influential House Democrats backed away yesterday from proposals that had split members of their party and delayed debate on energy legislation that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has vowed to pass before July 4.

In a memo to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the energy and air-quality subcommittee, said that "a number of the more controversial issues we raised" would not be included in the proposed energy bill. Those measures included fuel-economy regulations considered lenient toward the auto industry, an initiative to promote turning coal into liquid fuel and a proposal that would have undercut states' abilities to set tougher standards for vehicles emissions.

Dingell, the auto industry's chief defender in the House, and Boucher had been at odds with Pelosi over whether the measures should be put before the House, which probably would have resulted in a floor fight and might have delayed passage of any energy package before Congress recesses at the end of the month.

The move to withdraw the measures represented a victory for Pelosi. Though members of her staff yesterday were playing down tensions between her and Dingell, noting that the two are in discussions on how to craft energy legislation, she can now introduce a bill with less chance of a stalemate.

Dingell and Boucher said, however, that they were only deferring consideration of the measures until later in the year. "The issues are important, and we are committed to addressing them and others when we take up comprehensive energy legislation in the fall," their memo said. "This will also give us the needed time to achieve consensus on these issues if at all possible."

The memo acknowledged that "many of these issues are complex and difficult, and it is our desire to avoid unnecessary delays" in passing energy legislation.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said yesterday that withdrawal of the issues raised by Dingell and Boucher would clear the way for rigorous auto-fuel efficiency requirements, known as corporate average fuel efficiency standards, or CAFE.

"Today's development shows that weak CAFE standards are not acceptable as we move forward with this bill," Markey said. "It shows the ground is shifting on all of the issues that are central to energy independence and climate change, and it enhances the likelihood that we will be able to enact legislation that makes real progress."

Markey said he intended to move forward with a strategy that "maximizes the chances that this summer's energy bill includes strong fuel economy standards."

It was not immediately clear, however, how Markey and other supporters of tougher standards planned to push ahead. The shift by Dingell and Boucher appeared intended to ensure that contentious matters were set aside until the fall, though Capitol Hill staff members said they could be revived in debate on the House floor or in conference with members of the Senate, which is debating its own energy package.

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