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Republicans adopt democrats energy bill { August 1 2003 }

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Senate Breaks Deadlock, Passes 2002 Energy Bill

By Peter Behr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2003; Page E01

A deadlock in the Senate over energy legislation ended yesterday, when Republican leaders abruptly agreed to shelve their proposal in favor of a measure passed last year under Democratic leadership.

Senate Republicans said they agreed to adopt last year's bill because they plan to write provisions of their choosing when they meet with House negotiators later this year to work out differences between House and Senate energy bills.

"We'll be writing a completely different bill," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.).

Democrats, who had been losing votes on their energy proposals this week, agreed to the switch as the best deal they could get. To win Democratic agreement, Republicans promised to allow separate votes this year on strengthened enforcement of energy-market manipulation and on climate control -- two Democratic priorities. The bill then passed 84 to 14.

While the House passed its energy package in April, the Senate bill stalled this week amid partisan quarrels over energy issues and President Bush's judicial nominees. With Congress planning to adjourn in October and hard battles still to come over appropriations bills and other legislation, the energy initiative appeared to be fading.

Then, yesterday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) mentioned in a floor speech that last year's energy bill, which he had helped pass, might be a better choice than the current proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said if that's what the Democrats wanted, the Republicans could take it.

Although there were close votes on key issues, the 2002 Senate energy bill was finally approved by a one-sided margin, 88 to 11, in April that year. Conferees from the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-led Senate could not agreed on a final bill before last year's congressional session ended.

This year's conference would be controlled by Republicans, but both houses would have to approve the conference version.

The differences in the 2002 Senate bill and this year's House measure define major gaps in Republican and Democratic energy positions.

The 2002 Senate bill would have directed utilities to increase the amount of electricity generated by wind power and other renewable sources and created a new White House office on climate change and a registry of companies' greenhouse gas emissions. The House bill does not. This year's House legislation approved drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; the Senate bill did not. The Senate and House versions also differ on the authority given to federal regulators to oversee utility mergers.

In jettisoning this year's Republican energy bill, Senate GOP leaders would give up some measures they had insisted on after control of the Senate shifted back to their party this year. These include loan guarantees for half a dozen new nuclear power plants, a provision sought by Domenici, the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as a way of reviving the U.S. nuclear energy option. Domenici said he will not offer that proposal in the House-Senate conference.

The Republican bill that emerges from the conference will have "lots more production," Domenici said.

A few issues have bipartisan support, including doubling production of ethanol, a corn-based gasoline additive, and restrictions on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's attempts to open the nation's power transmission system to more long-distance deliveries of electricity.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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