With 392 possible amendments in the wings, the Senate this week
takes on the biggest overhaul of energy policy in a decade - and
aims to wrap it up within a matter of days.
It's a huge and highly complex bill, covering everything from
pilot programs for bicycles to the first incentives for new nuclear-
power production in a quarter century. With natural-gas prices
soaring, everyone agrees a new national strategy on energy is
But winning consensus on such a massive bill has never been easy.
The fights over energy are often regional, rather than partisan.
They involve clashes among some of the most powerful corporate and
environmental groups in Washington. And the process often fails of
its own weight.
Unlike last year's energy bill, which was drafted on the floor of
the Senate and foundered in conference, this bill is the result of
carefully calibrated back-room negotiations, mainly involving GOP
The Senate bill includes more than $35.5 billion for research and
development, including $1.7 billion for nuclear energy, $2 billion
for clean coal, and $1.8 billion for President Bush's hydrogen fuel-
cell initiative. It authorizes a new natural-gas pipeline from
Alaska and eases permits for oil and gas exploration. At least $15.5
billion in tax incentives for energy efficiency, renewable energy,
clean coal, and natural gas are expected to be added this week on
the Senate floor.
Early on, Republicans ruled out issues that have been the most
divisive in the past, such as drilling in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), although that issue could come up in final
negotiations between the House and Senate. New regulations mandating
the use of 5 billion gallons of renewable fuel additives in gasoline
also gave the lumbering energy bill an early lift. The boost for
ethanol is a high priority for corn-belt Democrats, who are now
expected to support the bill.
Republicans also deliberately backed the bill up against the
August recess, one of the most inflexible dates on the Senate
calendar. Senate majority leader Bill Frist says he will not allow
the Senate to recess without an agreement on energy. "We simply must
diversify our sources of energy, and we must do so in a way that
lessens our dependence on foreign sources for this energy," he said
Environmental activists say it's a formula for bad legislation.
"It will be very difficult to vote against an energy bill. There are
lots of things in this bill that most people don't know about that
need to be addressed," says Robert Perks, spokesman for the Natural
Resources Defense Council, which opposes the bill. …