Congress So Far on Energy Issues: Lots of Talk, No Action

July 31, 2008 07:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

But shades of a deal begin to surface

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Lawmakers today will depart on their five-week summer recess with nothing to show regarding issues the two political parties have talked and disagreed on since the last recess: energy prices and potential legislation dealing with speculators.

Some say the inactivity is a far better conclusion than if Congress had overplayed their hands into areas with many potential unintended consequences.

Republicans in both the House and Senate have insisted on a vote to lift restrictions on oil and gas drilling off U.S. shorelines. But Democratic leadership have blocked any votes on offshore drilling, choosing instead to push bills dealing with alleged aggressive speculation in the energy markets.

On Thursday, it was mostly political show in the Senate – by both political parties. For example, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked for but did not get unanimous consent to pass bills that have been blocked by Republicans, including measures to extend tax credits for developing alternative energy (HR 6049), strip oil companies of unused leases, subject the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to U.S. antitrust laws (HR 2264), bolster regulation of energy futures trading (S 3268) and require oil companies to invest a portion of their profits in alternative-energy projects (S 3044).

Senate Republicans countered by having Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asking for but not receiving consent on Republican proposals to lift restrictions on offshore drilling, streamline permitting for nuclear power and promote development of “clean coal” technology.

The same inaction occurred in the House, where Democratic leaders say they will wait until September to resume efforts to pass a bill (HR 6604) to curb speculation in energy markets.

But shades of a possible package approach surfaced when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested that she could foresee a broader energy bill that would include a host of Democratic-sponsored initiatives that the GOP leadership and President Bush oppose. “It could be in a bigger picture of things as all these things come together,” Pelosi said.

But after those remarks, Pelosi aides issued a statement reiterating that she has no intention of bringing to the floor legislation that would allow drilling in currently protected areas.

Bipartisan group to release ideas today. A bipartisan group of 10 senators, led by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) will today unveil a consensus package on energy legislation.

Comments: The energy battle in Congress could go until the end of September, when the current ban on offshore drilling expires. That is also when a Continuing Resolution (CR) will be needed to fund most of the government until early next year – or some other dateline. An annual ban on new Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) drilling has been included in appropriations bills since the 1980s, and the oil shale ban was added to last year’s Interior spending bill. Those bans would automatically be continued under a CR, unless specific language was included to end the moratoria.

And, I am not ruling out a “grand package” in a possible lame-duck session that could include some tax cut extenders (including renewable fuel language), a Democratic-pushed expansion of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, perhaps linked to congressional approval of the Colombia and even the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement. Also, if the U.S. economy slips during the third and fourth quarter, another economic stimulus package would be another potential item in the bargaining arena.

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders have agreed to move additional funding to help the flood-impacted Midwest rebuild before Congress leaves for the year. Several Iowa Democrats yesterday said they had received a personal commitment from Pelosi and that more aid will be provided for Iowa and other affected states. Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) on the House floor last night said, “We made clear that as soon as we get official numbers from the administration, that are at all coherent, we will act and that this Congress will not adjourn for the year without providing needed disaster relief.”

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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