Los Angeles Times: As President Bush pushes for a comprehensive energy policy before the August recess, Congress will be hard-pressed to reconcile divergent Senate and House versions of the huge energy bill. That the bill passed each chamber with healthy majorities is no indication of the plan's ultimate viability: Two previous attempts easily passed as well, only to stall in a House-Senate conference committee or on threat of a filibuster because of controversial elements in each version. The bill deserves the same fate this year in a conference committee.
Even if the bill finds its way to Bush's desk, the future of energy production and use in the U.S. will hardly brighten. Both versions continue to ignore the need for a comprehensive policy that embraces conservation and alternative energy exploration in addition to traditional energy sources, particularly coal. Both are also laden with pork.
The conference committee must overcome some difficult issues. The chief sticking point between the versions is over the gasoline additive MTBE. Embraced as a pollution reducer, it leached poisonously into groundwater supplies in California. The House seeks immunity from lawsuits for MTBE producers; the Senate doesn't provide it. The same standoff stalled a previous energy bill.
This time around, the conference committee chairman, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has suggested he could take out the immunity provision. If so, the measure is much more likely to pass.
They're inclined to drill
Where there is consensus, unfortunately, it is for drilling before conserving. The Senate bill is more conservationist and environment-friendly than the House version, offering provisions to reduce oil demand and requiring utilities to increase their use of renewable energy. But both the Senate and House shirk measures with longer-term and broader effect, particularly increasing automobile fuel economy standards.
The Senate version is a little less porky than the House measure, but still contains lavish tax incentives that go primarily to the oil and gas industries. One tax break in the Senate bill would save oil and gas producers drilling in federal waters $100 million over 10 years. Both chambers encourage oil-drilling research, with the House granting $2 billion for that purpose over 10 years. Such giveaways to a fully mature and outrageously prosperous industry are egregious when juxtaposed with the first federal education budget cuts in a decade.
Despite an admonition by Bush that tax breaks for oil companies are unnecessary in a time of high gas prices, Congress seems intent on giveaways. The ideal fate for this energy bill, like its predecessors, is death by committee. Better no "energy policy" for another year than a sham.