House Dems Hustling to Finalize Energy Package

House Democrats were scrambling to finish writing their sprawling energy package last night in preparation for a floor vote as soon as today.

A House Democratic leadership aide interviewed after a late-night Democratic caucus meeting said a vote is possible today but might get pushed to tomorrow. The final drafting of the measure remained incomplete last night.

The House Rules Committee approved a procedural maneuver last night that could allow the bill to come to the floor today. This tactic allows the panel to report a rule governing debate on a bill the same day as the floor debate. Typically, completion of a rule and floor debate are separated by a day.

The energy measure would increase corporate average fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 and greatly expand the national biofuels mandate. It also would require utilities nationwide to provide 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020 and raise oil industry taxes to finance billions of dollars in renewable energy incentives.

House Democratic leaders yesterday said the bill would also include a $21 billion tax package that includes roughly $13.5 billion in higher taxes on oil companies. "Other revenue raisers in the bill come from the president's budget and from bipartisan negotiations with the Senate," read a summary of the bill circulated by House Democrats.

In the Senate, the tax and utility provisions mean a likely filibuster. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, said the auto mileage and biofuels provisions are "great for America," but he thinks the other two additions sully the bill.

"If it comes over here, we have no alternative but to have war," he told reporters.

"I believe the bill will not pass with those two provisions on it," Domenici added. "We will do everything we can to see that it doesn't."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) predicted the bill would not pass with the tax and utility language, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also voiced opposition.

Southeastern utilities and GOP lawmakers argue the renewable power mandate would penalize states in the region that have less access to renewable resources. Proponents say the provision would help curb greenhouse gas emissions and spur job growth in the renewable energy sector.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters yesterday he is not sure if the bill would win the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster. But Reid also noted the tax package is smaller than the roughly $32 billion tax plan Republicans successfully blocked from the broad Senate energy bill approved in June.

"I think it is going to be a very tough vote for the Republicans to oppose," said Reid, adding the Senate can get to the bill "very soon" if the House acts quickly.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a longtime advocate of higher fuel economy standards, said the CAFE and renewable power language and other energy efficiency provisions are key to helping curb greenhouse gases. He predicted a bill that helps curb emissions and addresses oil demand would pick up speed in the Senate.

"My hope is that once that gets the big attention in all of Thursday's papers, emblazoned above the fold, that we will have a lot of momentum," he said. "We really are of the opinion that once the whole package is fully understood, that it will be able to move through the Senate as well."

Critics of the higher oil industry taxes say they would stymie domestic production, and GOP leaders in both chambers say the House plan could raise consumer costs. Supporters argue that record high profits in recent years show that oil industry tax incentives should be rolled back in order to help fund alternative energy.

Many observers expect the bill to clear the House, where Democratic leaders need only a simple majority.

But Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) criticized the tax provisions and the larger biofuels mandate, which refiners oppose. He also noted fears that boosting ethanol production would raise the costs of livestock feed.

"There are a lot of concerns from the agriculture community that are not part of corn ethanol," he said.

Green, who said he will not vote for the bill, is a leader among the so-called "oil patch" Democrats who oppose new limits on domestic oil and gas production. He said conservative Blue Dog Democrats will also have concerns.

Rahall's oil and gas language is gone

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) confirmed that Democratic leaders had stripped oil and gas language approved by his committee.

House energy legislation approved in August contained several provisions designed to put the brakes on efforts to expedite oil and gas drilling. It would have loosened deadlines for issuing drilling permits, required the Interior Department to impose new fees on industry for processing drilling permits and imposed some new environmental conditions on oil and gas development.

But none of these provisions made the cut.

"Zippo," Rahall said.

But Rahall vowed to seek other vehicles for the language and said they could also surface in stand-alone bills.

The energy package also does not include a provision aimed at recouping royalty payments from flawed late-1990s Gulf of Mexico leases. The oil industry opposed the Rahall language and the leasing provisions.

Even so, the bill is hardly a victory for the sector, which remains very unhappy with the tax provisions and the increased biofuels mandate. The American Petroleum Institute slammed the bill in a statement yesterday, alleging the tax language "takes capital away from expanding domestic oil and natural gas production and refining capacity."

"The renewable fuel title sets up a new crazy-quilt of boutique biofuels that will strain, and could break, the nation's fuel supply system," the group said.

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