WASHINGTON (AP) House Republican leaders hope to pass a broad energy package in the coming weeks that offers billions of dollars in tax breaks and favors for the coal, oil and nuclear industries as well as conservation incentives.
Much of the legislation, which emerged in bits and pieces this week from four House committees, mirrors and in some cases goes beyond the energy blueprint outlined by President Bush two months ago.
House GOP leaders have promised to enact energy legislation before Congress leaves for its summer recess in August.
The energy package includes drilling in an Arctic wildlife refuge, a top priority of the White House; incentives for technology to allow continued use of coal for power production; and tax breaks for high-mileage hybrid gas-electric automobiles.
But in some cases, the House committees have cleared measures not even sought by the administration.
Within one of the energy bills is a provision giving some of the largest, most profitable oil companies a waiver on having to pay the government royalties on oil and gas taken from new lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico. During the presidential campaign, Bush opposed such a royalty waiver, which critics claim amounts to a $7.3 billion windfall to the oil companies.
The House tax-writing committee, meanwhile, produced $33.5 billion worth of energy-related tax breaks a much broader sweep of tax incentives than Bush has sought even though some Democrats wondered whether there will be money available.
About half the tax breaks would go to oil, gas and coal industries and an additional $9 billion was earmarked to promote conservation and energy efficiency
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the aim was to produced a balanced package of tax measures that helps conservation and development of energy supplies.
But the breath of the tax incentives went far beyond those proposed by the White House energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.
In addition to tax breaks for clean coal initiatives, refineries, pipelines and nuclear power plants, the committee also approved tax credits on a wide range of conservation programs, from helping to sell hybrid-fueled cars to making it cheaper to insulate homes, buy residential solar panels, reduce energy use in commercial buildings and develop and sell more efficient appliances.
Still, overall the (legislative) package is disappointing, said David Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a private energy conservation advocacy group.
While Nemtzow praised the tax writers for some of their provisions, he said big-ticket energy saving items such as a major increase in automobile fuel economy and tougher appliance standards were largely rejected in other energy legislation advanced to the House floor this week.
The disagreements over energy efficiency, a fight Democrats pledged to continue when the legislation is considered by the full House, was apparent during the Energy and Commerce Committees crafting of its energy bill.
A proposal to boost the federal corporate average fuel economy standard, or CAFE, from the current 27.5 mpg to 37.5 mpg was soundly defeated, 43-11. Another fuel economy increase and an attempt to force the Bush administration to accept a more stringent federal air conditioner standard also fell by similar margins.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the committee chairman, dismissed the criticism. He called the legislation that emerged from committee by a 50-5 vote a landmark conservation bill that for the first time in years has Congress taking steps to increase motor vehicle fuel economy.
The bill requires that CAFE standards for light trucks be adjusted to reduce gasoline consumption by new sport utility vehicles and minivans by 5 billion gallons over six years. Critics called that far too little, noting that the gasoline savings over six years would amount to about what all cars and trucks consume in two weeks.
The Bush administrations biggest victory came in the Resources Committee, where Democrats failed 19-29 to strip the legislation of a provision that would allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska.
Opponents vowed to kill the provision on the House floor, where Democrats will be joined by many moderate Republicans in opposing it. Senate Democrats also have said no Arctic refuge drilling measure would pass.
Nevertheless, Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, sponsor of the legislation, said he was optimistic. Its a selling job, he said, noting that with the various energy bills before the full House, were now down to serious business.
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