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A Porker of an Energy Plan

October 02, 2003

National energy legislation should be broad and forward-looking, determining how the country will buffer consumers and business from energy price shocks, reduce dependence on foreign energy supplies, promote energy conservation and protect the environment. But the Frankenstein of a bill that Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) are stitching together behind closed doors in a conference committee does none of that.

The legislation -- filled with pork despite the nation's spiraling deficit -- continues old, failed energy policies by promising subsidies to the coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear industries. The bill makes a token bow to developing renewable energy sources and arrogantly ignores conservation and environmental concerns.

The massive Aug. 14 electric blackout, which had nothing to do with energy supplies, is flogged as a reason to vote for the bill. Yet its supporters are pushing a weak electric transmission grid regulation scheme as part of the legislation. One electrical generation industry executive cautions that the bill "could have disastrous effects" because it would leave those policing the electric grid without real regulatory power. A trade group representing industrial energy users disputes any "near-term" increase in natural gas or coal generation.

No objection seems to matter to the congressional leaders who steadfastly cling to the agenda set during Vice President Dick Cheney's invitation-only meetings with energy executives.

The bill does not require improved automobile and truck fuel economy -- the easiest and quickest way to cut imported oil use. Manufacturers of the gasoline additive MBTE, which is polluting groundwater, would be sheltered from lawsuits. Republicans hope to kill a Democratic-sponsored section that would force power companies to use renewable fuels to produce 10% of their electricity. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and the other "Ethanol Democrats" would win subsidies for farmers in their states who grow corn for the costly fuel additive.

The bad and the ugly clearly dominate the legislation, which could be on President Bush's desk this month. The little that is good -- including financial incentives to spur construction of a pipeline to transport natural gas from vast reserves in the already- developed Prudhoe Bay region of Alaska -- is overshadowed by the bad.

Democrats promise to filibuster if language to open the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling remains intact, and Tauzin and Domenici say they'll drop the controversial section if they have to. But there's no evidence that the Senate or House has the will to override any more of this greedy mess.

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