U.S. Senate Rejects Bingaman Energy Amendment; ANWR Fight Next

The Senate yesterday rejected Sen. Jeff Bingaman's (D-N.M.) plan to boost energy program spending by several billion dollars in a 46-54 vote against its inclusion in the fiscal year 2007 budget resolution.

A likely floor fight on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil drilling could play out next, with votes expected by the end of the week.

The Binagaman amendment would have added $3.55 billion to fiscal 2007 energy program funding, the amount Bingaman -- the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee -- says is needed to fully fund authorizations in the recently enacted energy law.

"This is the beef, if you are interested in where the beef is in this energy debate," Bingaman said late yesterday before the vote.

The amendment would also have added $500 million in fiscal 2007 funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and extend renewable energy production tax credits for another four years.

The measure was meant to increase funding in several areas, including $629 million more for transportation efficiency, encompassing more funds for hybrid vehicle technologies, fuel cell school buses and transit buses, and several other programs.

The plan also would have increased funding for renewable transportation fuels and power sources, efficiency programs, advanced coal technologies and other areas. It would have paid for the increases by assuming the reauthorization of the Superfund taxes on industry, which have lapsed and lack majority support to reinstate.

The vote was largely along party lines. Two Democrats opposed the measure -- Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) -- while three Republicans backed it -- Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lincoln Chafee (R.I.).

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the energy committee chair, said before the vote there would be other chances to address the funding priorities in Bingaman's plan. "We will have an opportunity in the appropriations process to move money around and do some of the things he seeks," said Domenici, who voted against the amendment.

One efficiency advocate criticized opponents of the plan after the vote. "By rejecting the Bingaman amendment directing full funding for energy-efficiency programs authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Senate has missed a key opportunity to provide the American public relief from high energy prices," said Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan.

ANWR still in play

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) plans to offer an amendment as soon as today to strike Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas drilling from the resolution, a source close to the issue said. The budget includes a $3 billion reconciliation instruction to the energy committee, which Domenici plans to meet by authorizing lease sales in ANWR's coastal plain.

Last year, Cantwell's ANWR amendment failed narrowly, 49-51, but the pro-drilling effort later collapsed in the House during the budget reconciliation debate. Another ANWR effort failed to clear the Senate late last year when lawmakers turned back Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) bid to include it in defense spending legislation.

With votes on the ANWR question hardened in the Senate, it appears the Cantwell amendment may again fail narrowly. Drilling opponents are looking to derail final passage of the budget if ANWR remains in the package, and ANWR is the only reconciliation item because Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) did not include cuts to Medicare or other mandatory entitlement spending accounts. Environmentalists have attempted to cast the resolution vote as a referendum on Arctic drilling because of the "ANWR-only" reconciliation language.

The final vote on the resolution is expected to be narrow. "A lot of people [who oppose ANWR drilling] are focusing on final passage, which looks very close," a Senate aide tracking the issue said.

The ANWR-only reconciliation strategy appears to have influenced at least one key vote on the issue. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) confirmed this week he plans to vote against the package if the ANWR provision remains intact. Last year, he was among the anti-drilling GOP moderates who voted to strip ANWR, but he later supported the overall resolution with the ANWR plan still included. The fiscal 2006 resolution passed, 51-49.

The ANWR-only reconciliation strategy also has important ramifications for the House. Last year, unified Democratic opposition to mandatory health spending and other program cuts gave anti-drilling GOP moderates the leverage to force leadership to jettison ANWR from the budget reconciliation plan.

It is not clear whether or to what degree the House will pursue mandatory spending cuts or ANWR through the budget process this year. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters yesterday that GOP lawmakers are still crafting their version of the budget resolution and no final decisions have been made about the inclusion of several key items, among them drilling in ANWR.

But Boehner added that he is trying to put the chamber on a path that will encourage addressing mandatory spending through the reconciliation process every single year, including this one.

Reporter Alex Kaplun contributed to this report.

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