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Democrat energy bill nightmare

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Energy bill nightmare for activists
Republicans happy after approving Democratic legislation

By Miguel Llanos

Aug. 1 — Not in their wildest nightmares did environmentalists expect it to happen: Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., defied Republicans to approve the Senate energy bill passed last year when Democrats were in charge — and Republicans complied. Not only do environmentalists have issues with the Democratic bill, but they quickly realized that Republicans would rewrite the bill more to their liking as it goes next to a conference committee of House and Senate members.

“WITH THIS maneuver, the Senate has cut short needed debate on America’s energy future and failed to provide a responsible energy policy for the nation,” the Sierra Club said shortly after the Senate late Thursday passed the 2002 bill on an 84-14 vote.
“The Senate neglected to adequately debate and vote on important issues such as reducing global warming pollution; closing the light-truck fuel economy loophole; requiring increased use of clean, renewable energy sources; and providing consumer protections against energy market manipulation,” the Sierra Club added.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group was just as angry. “There is no way that any conference between the House energy bill, written by the polluters for the polluters, and this Senate energy bill, which was plundered by the polluters, will produce the clean, safe energy policy that Americans deserve,” USPIRG attorney Katherine Morrison said in a statement. “We are headed to a conference committee that will be dominated by allies of the polluters.”


Republicans reject the allegations, but acknowledge they’ll be able to rework the Democratic bill more to their liking.
“This is a day to smile and smile big,” Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Thursday night.
“The reason I’m smiling is because I’m going to be rewriting that bill,” he said, referring to the fact that, as chairman of the Senate energy committee, he’ll preside over the House-Senate conference. “We’re in the majority and we’ll write a completely different bill.”
Among the changes promised by Domenici: expanding nuclear power and opening more public lands to oil and natural gas drilling.
It’s not clear if conferees would try to insert language to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The previously approved House energy bill would, but neither the Democratic nor Republican bill in the Senate called for that.

President Bush, who wants Congress to pass an energy bill that allows refuge drilling, welcomed Thursday’s vote. “The president looks forward to working with the conferees to ensure that we enact a balanced and comprehensive energy policy this year,” the White House said.

Daschle was also quick to welcome the deal, saying Republicans “made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.”
For Daschle and other Democrats in farm states, the deal does improve the chances that Congress will pass a provision to mandate and double the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive.
Republicans are likely to keep the provision in a conference bill since it is in both Democratic and GOP bills.
But any final conference bill is likely to favor Republican views on other energy and environmental issues — from car mileage standards to drilling on public lands.
A Daschle spokesman said that should a final conference bill be unacceptable, Democrats would use a filibuster — a tactic whereby lawmakers indefinitely delay a vote by speaking on the floor.
And the spokesman for Democrats on the Senate energy committee said that if Daschle hadn’t made the offer, Republicans would have eventually passed their own bill.

At least this way, Bill Wicker said, the conference starts off with a bill that has more provisions acceptable to Democrats.
“As for the complaints about what will happen in conference,” Wicker told, “those are as predictable as the GOP boasts about how they’re going to fix things in conference.
“This is precisely what you would expect people disappointed on both sides to say,” he added. “We are aware of these concerns, and these forewarnings, and we will deal with them at the appropriate time. For now, we’re thrilled.”

Thursday’s turn of events came as a surprise to everyone, especially since the Senate had been mired in debate over the Republican energy legislation.
That debate was going nowhere Thursday until Daschle alluded to last year’s bill, saying in his floor speech that it would have been a better way to go.
Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., quickly picked up on it and said that might just work for Republicans. A closed-door meeting of GOP senators followed as did the decision to take Daschle up on his offer.
“It’s been a fascinating day,” Frist later told reporters, adding that how the deal developed was “a little bit unusual.”
Frist did have to negotiate with Democrats on two issues: pledging time in the future to allow for votes on climate change and electricity deregulation.
On climate change, a bipartisan amendment by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., would set mandatory limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that many scientists fear are warming the Earth.
The Bush administration favors a voluntary, and incentive-based approach.

One seasoned observer noted that while Daschle benefits from the ethanol provision, his party will lose the bigger energy battle as long as Republicans don’t try for too much — particularly the controversial idea of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

"In essence, this effort will take any control the Democrats had in crafting the bill and give it to a conference run by Republicans,” said Frank Maisano, an energy industry consultant with the lobbying firm Bracewell & Patterson. “This could ignite a scenario where Republicans craft a conference report that is favorable, but not overtly partisan toward them, and send it back to the Senate sometime next spring with the ethanol mandate as its main ingredient.”
If that happens, Maisano added, Daschle and other Democrats could have trouble with traditional supporters if they support the bill. “This would place Daschle and many of his ethanol-supporting Democrat colleagues in a difficult spot,” he said, “just a few months from the election” for president and Congress.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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