Lawmakers Get Ready To Revisit Energy Bills

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Congress looks set to tackle energy legislation -- again.

Galvanized by a combination of $70-a-barrel crude oil prices, $3-a-gallon gasoline, war in the oil-rich Middle East and growing anxiety about climate change, House and Senate leaders have pushed through separate energy bills.

The only problem is that the two bills don't match, and the differences could prove tough to iron out.

? The Senate voted for raising average vehicle fuel efficiency to 35 miles a gallon; in the House, disagreement among Democrats prevented such a measure from reaching the floor.

? The House voted for a renewable-energy standard for utilities; support in the Senate fell short.

? The Senate voted to raise the minimum level of ethanol consumption nationwide; a House version never came to a vote.

? The House voted to increase royalty and tax payments for oil companies and give tax incentives for renewable resources and energy efficiency; the Senate didn't adopt any tax package.

Energy legislation remains a priority for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who is fighting to stop the construction of new coal plants in his home state, and for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has vowed to pass legislation that would help the environment and promote what she has called "energy independence."

"It's one of her priorities," said Drew Hamill, a Pelosi spokesman.

But some lobbyists wonder whether energy will get drowned out by debates on Iraq and appropriations.

"I think it's a priority for the Democrats and for the president. They all talk about energy," said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents the ethanol industry. "But this is a political town and a political season, and who knows?"

Further uncertainty surrounds procedural issues. To reconcile the House and Senate bills, one chamber may have to pass an additional measure, creating an opportunity for mischief by the legislation's foes.

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