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Gas prices are shooting up and crude oil has been hovering around $100 a barrel. With that backdrop, House Democrats pushed through a new energy bill today. They said it aims to shift the United States away from oil dependency toward a renewable energy sources.
NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: On a mostly partisan vote, the House approved an $18-billion energy tax package that takes away tax breaks from oil and gas companies to pay for more incentives for conservation and renewable energy production. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it vital for a greener and more prosperous future.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives): This bill invests in clean, renewable energy that will put us on a path toward energy security and energy independence in a fiscally responsible way by repealing subsidies to big oil - only to big oil already making record profits.
ELLIOTT: The bill includes a host of tax credits for wind, water and solar power and for renewable fuels including ethanol. There are also conservation credits for plug-in hybrid cars, efficient appliances, geothermal heat pumps and energy-efficient homes and businesses. Even breaks for companies that encourage their employees to bike to the office.
Maryland Democrat, Chris Van Hollen told his colleagues they had a clear choice.
Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland): Does the people's house stand with the American consumer or do we stand with big oil companies and the special interest? With gas prices now, more than twice as high as they were, the day President Bush took office, the American people can simply not afford a continuation of those failed policies that brought us to this point.
ELLIOTT: But Republicans argued American consumers will end up paying more if the bill becomes law. Louisiana Congressman Jim McCrery said the U.S. economy needs oil and gas.
Representative JIM McCRERY (Republican, Louisiana): Profits that have been so denigrated here by some today move pretty much in parallel with the level of investment of our American companies to find new sources of energy to help us meet our energy needs in this country. That's reality. All this hocus-pocus about renewable fuels and sun and - it swell - but it is a drop in the bucket of what we need to operate this country today and for the foreseeable future.
ELLIOTT: McCrery took issue with the Democrats calling the oil tax incentives as subsidy when most manufacturing firms get to take the production tax credits.
Rep. McCRERY: So it's punitive to the oil and gas industry. It's not removing some special subsidy, it's taking away from only the oil and gas industry a general deduction for all manufacturers in the United States.
ELLIOTT: Republican Brian Bilbray of California brought up the question of whether a bill that promotes ethanol can be called an environmental initiative.
Representative BRIAN BILBRAY (Republican, California): When someone stands up here and says this is a green bill, this bill stinks to high heaven. It's polluting our air and picking up pockets under the guise of protecting the environment, of protecting the consumer.
ELLIOTT: The energy tax package passed despite the Republican objections and several GOP procedural maneuvers to kill it and force the House to take up instead a Senate-passed foreign intelligence surveillance bill.
But it's not clear, the energy measure is heading anywhere fast. The legislation is similar to language that was rejected by the Senate as part of a broader energy bill approved last year, and the White House has promised to veto.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News, the Capitol.
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