US Senate defers action on energy policy bill, probably until next year

Following a series of procedural votes, the US Senate, by a 94-1 margin, Monday effectively postponed controversial energy legislation that Republican leaders had threatened to attach to a railroad retirement bill. Minutes before the evening floor vote, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) withdrew support for the proposal.

Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 3 -- Following a series of procedural votes, the US Senate by an overwhelming 94-1 margin Monday effectively postponed controversial energy legislation Republican leaders had threatened to attach to a railroad retirement bill.

Minutes before the evening floor vote, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) withdrew support for the proposal, which sought to force a vote on an energy reform bill passed by the Republican-led House in August. That bill, HR 4, is supported by industry because it includes leasing of a portion of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and would dramatically expand tax incentives for domestic oil production.

Other than the oil industry, a few labor groups, most notably the Teamsters Union, supported HR 4 because, they said, it will boost US jobs. But most other traditional Democratic constituencies, such as environmental and consumer groups, opposed the bill. Environmental groups say that instead of opening ANWR, policymakers should try to encourage more conservation and cleaner-burning energy.

Several other influential unions opposed HR 4. That could have had a role in the Senate Republican leaders deciding to abandon their efforts, congressional sources said speaking on condition of anonymity.

Industry sources speculated that the Senate action will mean little movement on a comprehensive energy bill until next year.

The White House says it wants a comprehensive energy bill but has said HR 4's $34 billion in tax incentives, including $13 billion for the oil and gas industry, are too much of a drain on the US Treasury (OGJ Online, Nov. 13, 2001). The White House has never said whether it would accept an energy bill without an ANWR provision. However, President George W. Bush has criticized the Democratic-controlled Senate for not debating the energy reform issue on the Senate floor sooner.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said he will take the issue up early next year after Congress returns from a month-long recess.

A draft 400-page Democratic energy bill does not include ANWR.

But instead of ANWR it may include another controversial proposal: a plan to include a renewable fuels standard in the gasoline pool, and related provisions to allow states to waive the oxygenate requirement in clean fuels and ban the use of methyl tertiary butyl ether.

Some congressional sources speculated that come January, lawmakers may opt to jettison both ANWR and the renewable standard, leaving a comprehensive energy bill that is palatable to most on Capitol Hill. The fate of the House's bills generous tax language is a wild card that will be another bargaining chip before any final energy reform bill is passed, sources said.

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at maureenl@ogjonline.com

More in Government