U.S. Senate Vote Stalls Energy Bill, Changes Planned

The sweeping energy bill that passed the House yesterday stalled in the Senate this morning as Democrats failed to break a filibuster, a vote that will likely prompt negotiations to scale back or cut controversial tax and renewable power provisions.

The Senate voted 53-42, but 60 votes were needed to proceed toward a final vote. Three Democrats sided with the GOP against the bill; five Republicans voted in favor. A revised bill could come up for a Senate vote as soon as next week.

The measure approved by the House would boost auto mileage standards by roughly 40 percent by 2020 and require a massive increase in biofuels production.

It also would require investor-owned utilities to provide escalating amounts of power from renewable sources, and increase taxes on oil companies by more than $13 billion, with most of the increase falling on major integrated firms. The oil tax and renewable electricity standard have drawn a White House veto threat in addition to opposition from many GOP lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned last night that today's vote would likely fall short and predicted several days of negotiations. "I assume he will regroup over the weekend and decide what to bring up as a variation," said Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) shortly after the vote. "I think it could come up next week."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was "disappointed" that the Senate did not pass the measure, which the House approved 235-181 yesterday. But she expressed interest in compromise. "The House will work with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to pass a strong energy bill and send it to the president's desk for his signature," she said in a statement.

"You have got to substantially change or take the objectionable parts out, which is the renewable electricity portfolio and the tax package, for now, and move the renewable fuels and move CAFE," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a major backer of the CAFE increase, who voted in favor of trying to end the filibuster.

The increase in corporate average fuel economy standards, and provisions on biofuels, building and appliance efficiency enjoy wider support. "CAFE in itself is a huge bill, this is 10 years in the making, and we have the votes for it, so we should go ahead with it," she told reporters.

The oil taxes are part of a broader $21 billion tax package that uses the oil company revenues and other tax changes to funds expanded incentives for renewable power, conservation and efficient vehicles. "I think there will be some taxes, but it will have to be modified considerably," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Environmentalists support the auto mileage increases as well as the renewable power standard and repeal of oil industry tax breaks. "Senators who are blocking this energy deal are playing into the hands of OPEC and the oil industry at the expense of American families," said Larry Schweiger, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

Major utilities and some Southeastern lawmakers strongly opposed the renewable power provision, which would require 15 percent of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2020, though about a fourth of the requirement could be met with demand reduction measures.

They claimed the standard is an inflexible "one-size-fits-all" approach that would raise costs in states that lack sufficient renewable resources. But environmentalists and other backers of the provision say it allows enough types of renewable power to accommodate these states and call it an important way to begin curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans who sided with Democrats in trying to break the filibuster were Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Gordon Smith (Ore.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and John Thune (S.D.). Democrats Mary Landrieu (La.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Robert Byrd (W.Va.) voted against the bill.

With the energy bill back in negotiations, some senators are considering making another attempt to put its renewable fuels standard on the farm bill. Thune said that he and other Western senators may propose the energy bill's biofuels mandate as an amendment in the farm bill.

"It is still in play and we are going to keep it in play until there is enough pressure on the energy bill to get the energy bill to move," said Thune, one of the Republicans who broke rank and voted in favor of the cloture motion on the energy bill today. "The RFS [renewable fuels standard] is going to be passed one way or another and until it happens, we will keep RFS in play on the farm bill."

Senators struck a deal last night that will allow debate of up to 40 amendments on the farm bill next week. Senate leaders have not yet decided what the final amendments will be.

Reporter Allison Winter contributed.

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