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Energy Bill Heads For Home

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AP
House and Senate negotiators are awaiting completion of an $11.5 billion tax package before giving final approval to a sweeping compromise energy bill that Congress hopes to send to President Bush by week's end.

The conferees approved the non-tax measures early Tuesday in a session that lasted well past midnight, maneuvering through dozens of amendments, including one aimed at blunting China's attempt to purchase U.S. energy companies.

Throughout the negotiations, conference leaders took precautions to avoid provisions that might prompt a Senate filibuster, which they feared would doom energy legislation as it did two years ago.

But Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., the Senate's chief negotiator, warned that a provision calling for an inventory of oil and gas resources in coastal waters — which conferees voted to keep in the bill — could prompt a filibuster attempt by Florida senators.

Still, he said, he's confident that will be overcome, although he said Senate approval might be delayed until Friday.

Congress has been thwarted repeatedly over the past four years in attempts to enact energy legislation, although Mr. Bush first called for a new national energy blueprint in 2001, only months after taking office.

With soaring gasoline and other energy prices, Mr. Bush challenged Congress to give him a bill before it begins its August recess. Even so, the president and the lawmakers acknowledged the bill includes little, if anything, to reduce gasoline or other energy costs in the short term.

The broad legislation includes measures to spur construction of new nuclear power plants, promote ways to reduce pollution from coal and provides a boon to farmers by requiring refiners to double the use of corn-based ethanol in gasoline to 7.5 billion gallons a year by 2012.

It also would:

  • Provide subsidies and tax breaks for wind, geothermal and solar industries.
  • Require new efficiency standards for commercial appliances from air conditioners to refrigerators.
  • Extend daylight saving time by a month to save energy.
  • Require utilities to meet federal reliability standards for the electric transmission grid, hoping to avoid future blackouts such as struck in the summer of 2003.
  • Ease the way for more imports of liquefied natural gas by giving federal regulators final say over import terminals.
  • Provide loan guarantees and other subsidies for clean energy technologies and new nuclear reactors. It would authorize a $1.8 billion program to promote clean coal technologies.

    Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the conference chairman, called the legislation "the most comprehensive energy bill in the last 30 or 40 years."

    But some Democrats criticized the bill for providing cash-flush energy companies a mountain of tax subsidies, loan guarantees and support such as help to pay for deep-water oil exploration and drilling.

    "These are the wealthiest companies in America. We shouldn't be subsidizing them," complained Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.