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Breakaway Senate "gang" Pushes Drilling, Conservation

Taking one last whack at the stalled energy debate, a bipartisan group of 10 senators have released a sweeping energy proposal that includes more drilling, conservation and tax incentives for alternative car fuels.

This so-called "Gang of 10" has been meeting for weeks, but it's not clear if their legislation has a chance in the Senate, much less the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is almost singlehandedly holding off any oil-drilling proposals.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not exactly embrace the proposals, which many Democrats will oppose, but he said it's a good way to kick start a serious energy debate in September.

"I am hopeful this plan can begin to break the current legislative stalemate on the Senate floor," Reid said. "The American people deserve a real debate with productive Senate action on bipartisan proposals to help make energy more abundant, secure and affordable for America’s families and businesses."

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the leader of the gang of 10, admitted that "our leadership on both sides are uncomfortable with what we've done" because the comprehensive package has ideas that Republican and Democratic leaders have blocked.

The legislation would lift most of the moratorium on off shore drilling, maintaining a 50 mile buffer up and down the East coast as well as the west coast of Florida. The proposal would allow Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina to "opt in" and begin oil and natural gas exploration just outside that 50-mile buffer.

The senators highlighted one key aspect of their drilling proposals _ the oil would have to stay inside the U.S. and not be sold to foreign countries.

The proposal also seeks to provide tax incentives for converting cars to non-oil fuel sources, including $20 billion for research and development, grants to help U.S. automakers develop alternative fuel vehicles and consumer tax credits for purchase of highly efficient cars.

The proposal would cost $84 billion, but the senators involved with the proposal say it would be paid for by collecting fees and royalties on oil companies that discover new oil in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast. It would also force oil companies to pay royalties for existing drilling, attempting to close what senators say is a $30 billion loophole.

Missing from the proposal is any effort to crack down on oil speculation _ the sponsors say they are awaiting a September report from the Commodities Futures Trading Commission on the impact of speculators on oil markets.
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