Energy bill light on resource access is no trophy

Bob Tippee

In Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, the protagonist, Santiago, conquers a world of challenge to catch a huge marlin, then helplessly watches sharks devour his prize as he hauls it ashore.

Comprehensive energy legislation has gone the way of Santiago's fish.

Two and a half months after beginning work, Republican members of conference committee reconciling House and Senate energy bills reached agreement on Nov. 14.

At this writing, Democratic conferees still had to approve the compromise, which would then face votes in both houses of Congress. A filibuster by Democratic senators was possible.

Just as Santiago's marlin was too big to bring aboard his skiff, omnibus energy legislation is too unwieldy for easy compromise.

Besides covering a welter of unrelated subjects, the legislation has a tortured history. The House passed its bill in April. The Senate debated its proposal until late August but sent to conference what it had passed a year earlier.

Since then, Democratic conferees have had to watch as Republicans fashioned a compromise. They had 48 hrs to review the 1,700-page product.

Sharks circled the beast to the bitter end. In the final week, one senator nibbled the carcass for a $220 million "biodiversity pond" in Iowa, another for extra royalty money for coastal states, yet another for a tax-credit for producers in his state but not for competitors elsewhere.

Like Santiago, though, conferees persevered. Santiago wanted his big fish. Conferees wanted their big energy bill.

After his heroic struggle, bleeding and exhausted, Santiago beached a skeleton. Other fishermen barely noticed. The flesh was gone.

Whatever its fate, comprehensive energy legislation won't expand access to promising areas of the US petroleum resource. It thus won't make the contribution it otherwise might have to energy supply, jobs, and growth. It dishes out plenty to diffuse commercial interests. The flesh, however, is gone.

Lawmakers, if they pass it, will call the skeleton a trophy.

Like the fishermen in Hemingway's novel, though, other Americans�who need an energy policy grounded in resource development�will barely notice until mischief with fuel chemistry begins raising the price of gasoline.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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