Democrats expected to unveil energy plan next week

US Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is expected to introduce a bill next week that fellow Democrats say would take a more pragmatic approach to energy policy than a recent Republican energy proposal. Unlike the latter, the Democratic plan would not allow exploration on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain.

By the OGJ Online Staff

�US Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is expected to introduce legislation next week that fellow Democrats say will provide a more pragmatic approach to energy policy.

The bill is in response to a comprehensive Republican energy proposal that includes a controversial provision to drill in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeastern Alaska (OGJ Online, Feb. 26, 2001).

The Republican plan also would offer expanded tax incentives to marginal well producers and a host of other regulatory relief measures for the oil, gas, electric, nuclear and coal industries.

Bingaman and other Democrats argue that the Republican proposal only seeks to ramp up supplies without reducing demand. The result, Democrats and some Republicans say, would be more air pollution and less energy security. The Murkowski plan is endorsed by GOP leaders but has the backing of only one Democrat, John Breaux of Louisiana.

Support for Bingaman�s version remains uncertain and the White House has not commented on the legislative draft. But moderate Republicans from energy-dependent regions were being asked to support what Democrats are calling a �centrist� proposal.

The Democratic bill is expected to offer tax breaks but with more emphasis on energy efficiency and alternative fuel use. The proposal, like its Republican counterpart, seeks to streamline the environmental permitting process. It calls on regulators to retool administration policies that restrict drilling on public lands.

The Democratic bill would not allow ANWR exploration due to fears the drilling and production �footprint� would be too large.

Bingaman�s draft reportedly would instruct the White House to create a commission on climate change that would draft policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide. Bingaman also wants the US Department of Energy to consider what market conditions justify withdrawals from the 564 million bbl Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Meanwhile, the House Resources Committee will continue a series of hearings Mar. 15 on whether U.S. regulators should make it easier for industry to access oil and gas resources on public lands.

Witnesses will include oil industry leaders and environmental groups. They are: Matthew Simmons, president of Simmons & Co. International; James Hackett, president of Ocean Energy Inc.; Mark Papa, CEO of Energy Opportunity Growth Resources; Marlan Downy, president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists; David Alberswerth of the Wilderness Society; Robert Fisher, president of the Montana Petroleum Association and vice president of Ballard Petroleum LLC; and Lisa Speer, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney.

More in Drilling & Production