Senate Prepares to Hash Out Energy Bill Issues A simmering debate that got under way last week in the Senate over new energy legislation is bound to hit a full boil this week. The bill's most contentious issues remain unresolved. They include gas-mileage standards, renewable fuels and price gouging.
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Senate Prepares to Hash Out Energy Bill Issues

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Senate Prepares to Hash Out Energy Bill Issues

Senate Prepares to Hash Out Energy Bill Issues

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

A debate in the Senate this week could affect just about everything we do. It could affect everything because it's a debate about energy - where we get it and how we use it. Lawmakers will debate tougher mileage requirements for cars and trucks. They'll debate whether to mandate that sum of the electricity powering your lights or your radio should come from renewable sources. They're also taking aim at energy price gouging.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: Majority Leader Harry Reid likes to call this new Senate energy bill bipartisan - after all, three committees approved sections of it with votes from both parties.

Still, Reid can't resist comparing it to the last energy bill enacted two years ago that was drafted by the White House and had billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): Our legislation would increase production of renewables. We do not believe in the president's theory, the Republicans' theory: drill, drill, drill, more of the same. It reminds me of Iraq.

WELNA: Indeed, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's biggest complaint about the new energy bill is that it does nothing to boost domestic oil production.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): Gas prices have escalated significantly since the new majority's taken over. We had looked forward to this debate as an opportunity to do something real about our energy problems in this country, and so far, I'd have to say, we haven't made much progress.

WELNA: An amendment McConnell backed allowing oil refineries on federal lands and Indian reservations was rejected, mainly by Democrats. And Republicans have not let the Energy Committee's Democratic chair, Jeff Bingaman, have a vote on another amendment which he considers central to the energy bill. It's a so-called Renewable Portfolio Standard, and it forces utilities to use more energy from wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, ocean tides and landfill gas.

Senator JEFF BINGAMAN (Democrat, New Mexico; Chairman, Energy and Natural Resources Committee): You've got to get to a point by 2020 - each utility does - where it is either producing 15 percent of the power that it's selling from those sources, or it's taking 15 percent of what it selling from someone else who's produced it from those types of sources.

WELNA: The measure is fiercely opposed by Southern Republicans who say they lack renewable resources found elsewhere. Here's Tennessee's Bob Corker.

Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): This is nothing more than a tax, a tax on southeast United States. A tax where, basically, it's a transference of wealth, if you will, from southeast America to other parts, where wind and solar takes place.

WELNA: New Mexico Republican Pete Demenici offered a rival amendment allowing nuclear power and clean coal as energy sources. He got stopped by 56 votes, but it takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. And Domenici is now trying to block Bingaman's amendment with a filibuster.

Senator PETE DEMENICI (Republican, New Mexico): Ultimately, you got to have a filibuster on this amendment - you Southerners and you people I've just mentioned - because this is the worst deal if it ever happened to you.

WELNA: Meanwhile, all sides are girding for a big brawl this week over raising mileage mandates. TV stations here have been playing this ad from a nonpartisan group advocating energy independence called the Energy Security Leadership Council.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man: Congress is considering historic energy legislation. The goal: protect the American prosperity and security by reducing oil dependence. The solution - strong vehicle fuel economy standards.

WELNA: The standards proposed in the bill in which the Commerce Committee has approved would require cars and light trucks to improve their average mileage by a mile a year over the next 10 years.

Senators from auto-manufacturing states are making a counterproposal. It, too, raises mileage standards, but by about one-quarter less. Here's Michigan Democrat Carl Levin.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): Key automakers in the world say that with a stretch, this is achievable, but that the Commerce Committee numbers are not.

WELNA: There may also be an attempt to take out a provision going after price gouging by energy suppliers. Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell is its biggest backer.

Senator MARIA CANTWELL (Democrat, Washington State): We hope that this provision will stay in the legislation. I know that the president has said in a statement of administration policy that he may or plans to veto this legislation. The only thing that needs to be vetoed is the idea that oil companies are above accountability.

WELNA: Majority Leader Reid says he'll try to pass the bill later this week.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

INSKEEP: You can read more about the energy bill at

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