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Pull the Plug on Energy Bill

June 20, 2004

If only Congress spent as much time on real-world problems as it has wasted on election year politicking. Consider the meaningless vote last week in the House as Republican leaders scrambled to create the illusion of doing something about soaring gasoline prices by resurrecting a pork-laden energy bill that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) once derided as the "Hooters and polluters" bill. He referred to a break for the tight-T-shirt eateries buried among billions of dollars in energy industry subsidies, tax breaks and grants.

Republicans profess to consider the bill a key part of President Bush's effort to revise the nation's energy policy, which was last updated more than a decade ago. It died in the Senate last November in a wrangle over requiring greater use of corn-based ethanol in fuel and protection against environmental lawsuits for makers of another fuel additive, known as MTBE.

Though the reawakened bill passed 244 to 178 on Tuesday, no one expects the Senate to reconsider it. According to a U.S. Energy Information Agency analyst, the bill would have a negligible effect on energy production, consumption, imports and prices. Conservation, including tougher vehicle fuel-economy standards, is all but ignored.

Even more troubling was the flurry of related votes on Tuesday and Wednesday on bills that would provide regulatory and financial breaks that the energy industry lobbied for long before crude oil prices began their upward spiral. One sought to gain support for drilling in the Alaskan wilderness by tying it to an abandoned-mine cleanup program that deserves to pass on its own merits. Fortunately, the bill died.

Legislators, who have yet to pass a budget or an appropriations bill, lost a week of work when Congress all but shut down to honor President Reagan upon his death. Legislators head home in two weeks for the July 4 break, and there will be just a handful of days after that to complete necessary business. Here's a plea: Spend the remaining time accomplishing one useful thing, instead of resurrecting legislation that deserved to die.

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