WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 23 --A key Senate Republican predicted Congress can work out its differences on pending comprehensive energy legislation and send a proposal to the White House this year.
Republican Policy Committee Chairman Larry Craig (R-Ida.) said both Republicans and Democrats in the closely divided Senate have won and lost big policy issues.
"We would have liked to have seen more production, and they wanted it greener," Craig said. The Democratically controlled Senate voted against measures designed to lease a small portion of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; it also turned back efforts to dramatically boost automobile fuel efficiency standards.
The Republican-controlled House last August passed a bill that includes ANWR leasing and does not increase automobile fuel standards by any meaningful amount. Craig predicted that ANWR would not survive a House-Senate conference, given the strong opposition the measure ran into in the Senate. But he does expect the Senate to accept more energy tax incentives than what is in the bill currently. The House bill includes $33 billion in tax incentives, a figure the White House's Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels has suggested is too high. Some House Republican leaders have said however the White House supports their whole bill, including the tax provisions.
What kind of energy bill the White House will ultimately accept is still unclear, however, lawmakers say.
Craig did not speculate on what the White House is willing to accept; however, he said that he and fellow Republicans would urge colleagues to televise the final negotiations between the House and Senate leadership.
That would be a first for Congress, according to Senate staff, who noted that House-Senate conferences have never been televised.
Senate action continues
Meanwhile, the Senate struggled to finish its own version of the bill after weeks of debate.
Nevertheless, Senate leaders from both parties predicted the chamber would finish its version of the bill before May. Several dozen amendments may be considered before the legislation clears the chamber for the House-Senate conference.
On Apr. 23, lawmakers agreed, after an impasse last week, to include a $14.5 billion tax package in the bill; more tax incentives, including a provision designed to encourage the construction of a trans-Alaskan gas pipeline, were expected to be in the bill. The bill already includes a loan guarantee provision for pipeline owners, but Senators may also give North Slope producers a guaranteed price for their gas under certain market conditions. The House bill does not offer any kind of tax incentives for the line, but it does seek to mandate a southern route paralleling the oil pipeline to Fairbanks and then the Alaska Highway to British Columbia, vs. a proposed northern route across the Beaufort Sea into Canada' Mackenzie Valley.
A clean fuel proposal to triple ethanol use within the decade is also expected to survive Senate debate, despite efforts by California and New York lawmakers to revise the plan. Opponents of the measure argued the Renewable Fuels Standard could cause gasoline prices to rise, but a powerful coalition of farm groups and major oil companies said the costs to consumers would be negligible. Although the House does not include the clean fuels proposal, lobbyists expect it to survive in final legislation given to the White House.