White House, Congress fire opening shots in energy debate

Debate over the future of US energy policy became a full-blown battle between the White House and Capitol Hill Wednesday on the eve of the administration's recommendations. The White House document is expected to be a broad blueprint that Congress and policymakers will fill in with specifics this summer.

May 16th, 2001


Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, May 16 -- Debate over the future of US energy policy became a full-blown battle between the White House and Capitol Hill Wednesday on the eve of the administration's recommendations.

Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney has detailed much of the interagency task force report in meetings with Republican congressional leaders and in national interviews (OGJ Online, Apr. 19, 2001). The White House sees the document as a broad blueprint that Congress and policymakers will fill in with specifics this summer.

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) Wednesday said he would hold hearings next week on the task force report with the aim of moving legislation this summer.

Sources familiar with the report say there are "no surprises" in the White House document, which includes energy policies that President George W. Bush campaigned for last year. Those items include advocating greater access to federal lands for oil and gas exploration, streamlining permitting of electric transmission lines and pipelines, and expanding state authority to enforce federal clean air and royalty collection rules.

In foreign policy, the report would have the administration work with Congress to reexamine the effectiveness of sanctions.

Cheney, when he was chairman of Halliburton Co., was a vocal critic of laws like the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which seeks to punish companies that invest $20 million or more in certain countries. But the report stops short of advocating the removal of existing trade bans on Iran, Iraq, Libya, and a handful of other countries that are off limits for US investment. A more comprehensive discussion of sanctions policy is expected next month, however.

Back on the domestic front, as recently as last week Cheney and other White House officials were stressing that the energy policy report would not be a cure-all for chronic infrastructure problems.

But pressure from Democrats has forced the White House to retool those statements. A White House spokesman Wednesday maintained the administration energy program will help the country in the short term because spot crude oil prices will fall in anticipation of increases in domestic supply that will occur if the report's recommendations are implemented.

Democrats weren't buying that explanation, however.

The White House can't "talk its way into a solution," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) told reporters Wednesday. "It's just lip service."

Democrats also were critical of the White House's latest assertion that the president's tax cut proposal would soften the blow of higher energy prices.

"There is a credibility problem," Daschle said, noting that the Bush administration is seen as too pro-industry to address consumer concerns. According to Daschle, the tax cut plan now before the Senate will "make it harder" for the working poor to pay for their energy bills, not easier, and the tax cut will make it harder for government to fund repairs for roads and other infrastructure.

Pending Senate energy bills introduced by Democrats and Republicans both call for expanded tax incentives for marginal oil and gas production. The White House plan does not.

With regard to public lands access, the Republican plan and the White House both seek to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling.

Conservation and efficiency tax incentives are included in all three plans although some House Democrats would make those tax breaks retroactive in certain cases (OGJ Online, May 15, 2001).

House Democrats also want the US to pressure the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost production, a tactic the White House has discouraged.

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at maureenl@OGJonline.com

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