By Linda Feldmann, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
THREE and a half months after the Senate dropped it, wide-ranging energy legislation is alive again - and set for passage.
Senate dealmaker J. Bennett Johnston (D) of Louisiana, the bill's sponsor, has engineered compromises for the bill's most controversial elements. The bill could be passed as early as today.
However, Alaska's two senators, Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, both Republicans, could throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings by reintroducing an amendment to allow oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). But on the eve of debate, it appeared the two would hold off and leave ANWR out of the revised energy bill.
As long as ANWR and the other most contentious aspect of the bill - a proposal to set standards for stricter fuel efficiency in American cars, known as "corporate average fuel economy," or CAFE - remain on the sidelines, it has a good chance of passing.
Aside from losing ANWR, the Bush administration seems satisfied with the new energy bill.
"We are encouraged by the bill so far," says a senior Energy Department official. "So far so good, if things continue as they have been."
Environmental groups are less than pleased, but trying to put a positive face on it.
"It's got some good things," says Melanie Griffin, Washington director for energy programs at the Sierra Club.
One positive aspect of the bill, says Ms. Griffin, is its provisions to boost energy efficiency. Still, she adds, the House version of the bill, which is further from completion, is better on renewable sources of energy, such as biomass and solar.
Sierra Club's "biggest problem" with the bill, says Ms. Griffin, is its provision to streamline the licensing of nuclear-power plants. Currently, the construction of a plant and then its startup are separately licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Under the new procedure, there would be just one review, a move designed to boost the struggling nuclear industry. Opponents of nuclear power argue that requiring only one review could jeopardize public safety.
The nuclear-power streamlining provision seems assured of passage in the Senate, since its approval earlier this month as an amendment to the bill was by a unanimous voice vote. …