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US Senate Energy Bill Has Major Differences With House Version - 2002-04-25

In Washington, the Democratic-led Senate has approved by an 88-11 vote the most sweeping reform of U.S. energy policy in a decade. The vote sets up a showdown with the House of Representatives, which passed a very different version of the legislation last year.

Senators underscored the importance of the energy bill in light of recent political instability in the Middle East and in Venezuela, which is the third largest oil exporter to the United States.

In an effort to reduce U.S. dependency on imported oil, lawmakers passed a bill that emphasizes conservation and development of renewable fuels

"The only way to break our dependence on foreign oil is diminish our dependence on oil," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and a former Vice Presidential candidate. "We just do not have enough of it in reserve. One of the most tried and true American ways to deal with a problem of this kind is through thrift and efficiency, conservation, better use of our resources.

The emphasis on conservation puts the Senate legislation at odds with the version passed by the House last August. The House bill focuses on oil and gas development, and closely resembles President Bush's energy proposals.

Senate Republicans, including Charles Grassley of Iowa, are disappointed their chamber's bill does not call for greater domestic energy production. "Today oil refineries are operating at near full capacity, leaving no room in the system for unexpected shutdowns, fires or pipeline disruptions," he said.

The biggest difference in the House and Senate bills deals with opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling the centerpiece of President Bush's energy plan. The House version would allow drilling, the Senate measure would not.

Among the other differences, the House version includes more tax breaks to energy companies than the Senate bill.

The Senate bill also goes further than the House version in offering loan guarantees to build a pipeline that would ship natural gas from Alaska to the rest of the United States.

A joint conference committee will have to resolve differences between the two bills before a final version is sent to President Bush for his signature.