Senate Democrats promise bill with 'gouging' measure in June

US Senate Democrats said they will bring an energy bill to the floor in 3 weeks that will make oil product price manipulation a federal crime among other things.

May 24th, 2007

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, May 24 -- US Senate Democrats said they will bring an energy bill to the floor in 3 weeks that will make oil product price manipulation a federal crime, mandate more efficient government offices and motor fleets, increase biofuel supplies, and accelerate market entry of other alternative fuels.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he originally planned to bring the bill before the full Senate immediately after the week-long Memorial Day recess but decided to delay it for a week to allow full debate on immigration legislation.

The package will contain bills from the Energy and Natural Resources, Environmental, and Public Works, and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation committees, Reid said in a May 23 briefing.

He was joined by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee; Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs Environment and Public Works; John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who chairs Commerce, Science, and Transportation's Science, Technology, and Innovation Subcommittee; and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation committees.

Despite a backdrop proclaiming "Energy Independence," Reid said the bill, designated "The Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007," is a starting point. "We think anything we do should have some effect on the gluttony of the oil companies. The mere fact that we're talking about legislation should get their attention," he said.

'Sends a message'
Noting that the US sent $250 billion overseas in 2006 to import crude and products, Reid added: "The mere fact we're moving legislation on the floor should send a message to oil cartels."

Cantwell said Reid notified six committee chairmen in January that energy would be a top Senate priority in 2007. "It is critically important, as we research and develop cleaner energy alternatives, that consumers are protected, particularly during supply emergencies," she said on May 23.

Later that afternoon, the House passed its own bill directed against alleged oil-product price manipulation, HR 1252, originally introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), by a 281-184 vote. Cantwell's bill was added to motor vehicle fuel efficiency legislation that passed the Senate Commerce Committee on May 8 and will be part of the energy legislation package due on the floor in June.

That bill will offer energy steps more easily achieved than the bigger ones that need to be taken to solve the US energy dilemma, Boxer said.

"It's low-hanging fruit that can be picked right now," she said. "We have decided that the federal government should be a model of energy efficiency by retrofitting buildings that it owns and office space that it leases. I'm also excited that we have the administration's support in offering matching funds to states and cities for similar efforts. And the 60,000 cars which the federal government buys each year will have to be as fuel-efficient as possible."

Bingaman said the package will contain language from the energy and commerce committees dealing with cellulosic ethanol, energy efficiency, and carbon sequestration. Provisions requiring creation of a power generation portfolio of renewable sources, lighting efficiency, and additional renewable fuel incentives could be added on the floor, he said.

"This will be one of the most significant debates we have in Congress this year," said Kerry, who noted that the commerce committee's contribution to the package was its motor fuel efficiency and oil product price-gouging bill.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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