House Democrats unveil alternative energy report

Two days before the White House releases its long-awaited energy task force report, House Democrats Tuesday unveiled their own energy blueprint for the future. Many of the proposals have already been included under various legislation offered by Senate Democratic leaders.


By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, May 15 --Two days before the White House releases its long-awaited energy task force report, House Democrats Tuesday unveiled their own energy blueprint for the future.

The 20-page document, entitled "Principles for Energy Prosperity," is sharply critical of what Democrats call President Bush's "misguided notion that America must sacrifice the environment in order to maximize energy production."

Many of the proposals have already been included under various legislation offered by Senate Democratic leaders. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expect intense negotiations between the White House, Republicans, and Democrats to start this week on a comprehensive energy package.

Meanwhile, Democrats contend that the task force report to be released by Bush this Thursday has nothing new to offer the American public.

"The Bush administration is merely following the same tired old Republican playbook: cast blame, insist on extreme anti-environmental proposals, and provide American families struggling to pay their energy bills with no real help now and very little in the future," they said.

White House officials have said their proposals will emphasize both boosting domestic supply and encouraging conservation to reduce demand. However, policymakers have cautioned not to expect "quick" fixes that may not solve long-term problems with the country's energy infrastructure.

However, House Democrats maintain that some consumer-oriented protections need to be placed now to stop price gouging by large energy companies.

Tax incentives
Under the Democratic plan, several short-term policies would be enacted: price caps on wholesale electricity, retroactive tax credits for better energy efficiency, and assistance to lower income families and the elderly on fixed incomes.

The White House plan is said to endorse expanding tax credits for clean fuel boilers and proposes offering tax breaks for motorists who buy hybrid electric cars.

Both the White House and House Democrats say they want to boost oil supply, but each has a different approach. Bush officials will seek to expand industry access to federal lands off limits to drilling, including a controversial portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska.

Industry sources familiar with the White House told OGJ Online that the task force does not recommend any additional tax incentives for marginal oil and gas. But report authors are said to defend ANWR exploration by emphasizing the use of "21st century technology" that finds oil accurately and leaves a small "footprint."

Democrats say ANWR is too environmentally sensitive, and that 89% of the US' proven oil and gas reserves are in areas already open to drilling.

To boost domestic production, the Democratic plan would expand tax credits for independent oil and gas producers. The plan also includes proposals designed to keep oil market stable through the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve when prices are over $30/bbl.

When prices fall below $15/bbl, the government should buy oil from marginal wells, the report said. Democrats also want the federal government to force wholesale and refining industries to report their prices so independent marketers have an equal opportunity to obtain the lowest price for vehicle fuels.

Democrats also want the government to create a natural gas reserve to protect American consumers from dangerously high natural gas prices. The reserve could also buy domestic gas from marginal wells during times of low prices.

The report also calls for a production tax credit to promote the development of a new Trans-Alaskan natural gas pipeline.

White House officials said the Democrats' plan has several proposals that "overlap" with the pending interagency task force report. However, the White House criticized Democrats' calls for opening the SPR and for seeking to impose price caps on wholesale power.

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