House Speaker Nancy Pelosi searches for Democratic unity on energy bill
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to solidify Democratic support Monday behind her energy package and head off a rebellion among some oil-patch Democrats who argue the legislation would hurt U.S. energy production.
Pelosi was said to have agreed to make some changes to satisfy some of the disgruntled Democrats, who were particularly concerned about measures that would tighten the permit process for oil and gas on federal land. The provisions would reverse action by Congress two years ago that sought to streamline the permit process.
"The speaker has sought to bring about Democratic unity" on the energy package, said a Pelosi spokesman, Drew Hammill. He said some changes have been made in the oil and gas sections of the bill.
The oil and gas industry is lobbying hard against any tampering with the permit issue and opposes tax changes that the industry says would cost oil companies $15 billion over 10 years. Pelosi wants to shift the money to tax incentives for renewable energy sources and energy conservation measures.
The energy legislation has been the focus of intense lobbying by both industry and environmentalists in recent days.
A coalition of 47 moderate to conservative Democrats, known as the "Blue Dogs," had threatened to withhold support unless some of the oil and gas provisions, including the permit issue, were changed.
With strong GOP opposition to the bill, Pelosi needs the Blue Dogs' support if she is to fulfill a promise to get energy legislation passed before the August congressional recess.
Republicans have ridiculed the Democrats' energy package, saying it ignores the need to produce more domestic oil, coal and natural gas or to help expand nuclear power. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, dubbed it the "non-energy, energy bill."
Pelosi and many other Democrats have maintained it steers a new direction in energy priorities, seeking to promote renewable energy sources such as ethanol, biodiesel, power from wind turbines, and conservation.
It includes tax breaks, loan guarantees and other incentives to develop renewable energy sources, hybrid gas-electric cars that would get their juice from the electricity grid, and new efficiency standards for an array of appliances and equipment.
The bill avoids several of the toughest energy fights, by not including measures to increase automobile fuel economy, a mandate to use more ethanol as a substitute for gasoline, or to require electric utilities to use renewable fuels.
Environmentalists and advocates for renewable energy sources, especially the wind industry, have urged lawmakers to add to the legislation a national requirement for utilities to produced at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.
Pelosi has been open to taking up the electricity issue on the House floor, though its prospects there are uncertain. Lawmakers from much of the Southeast oppose a national renewable electricity requirement, arguing that utilities would not be able to comply without raising electricity prices.
It remains unclear whether automobile fuel economy will be raised at all when the energy bill comes to the floor later this week.
The issue has caused tension between Pelosi and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the most senior lawmaker in the House, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and a staunch protecter of the auto industry, which is based in his home state.
Dingell did not include auto fuel economy in legislation advanced by his committee and said he preferred to address it as part of a global warming bill in the fall. Environmentalists view that as tantamount to killing the issue.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has proposed increasing the federal auto fuel economy requirements to 35 miles per gallon, from the 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and small trucks, similar to legislation already approved by the Senate.
It is widely believed Markey will not pursue the matter unless he is assured of having enough votes to get it passed. The issue then will be settled when the House meets with the Senate to work out a final compromise bill, probably this fall.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)