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US Lawmakers Approve Bush Energy Bill - 2003-11-18

President Bush has won a victory on Capitol Hill as lawmakers in the House of Representatives approved a comprehensive energy bill. The debate over the legislation took place against the backdrop of concerns about weaknesses in the nation's energy infrastructure and its vulnerability to terrorist attacks.

House approval of the final conference report, worked out in negotiations with the Senate, gives President Bush most of what he was seeking.

The bill contains measures such as tax incentives to stimulate domestic production of oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power.

Perhaps most significant, it imposes "reliability standards" on the country's power generating companies, the first time that has been mandated in law.

The issue of reliability standards took on new significance earlier this year when a massive power failure plunged areas of the northeastern and midwestern United States into darkness.

In congressional hearings that followed, lawmakers called for urgent action to upgrade the existing "power grid," saying it could be vulnerable to attack by foreign or domestic terrorists.

Among measures aimed at reducing U.S. reliance on imported energy supplies, the bill requires a doubling of the use of corn-based ethanol, an additive in gasoline.

The legislation provoked sharp debate between Democrats and Republicans right up until the last moment.

Democrats expressed support for comprehensive energy legislation, but called the White House-backed bill a "giveaway" to big energy companies, saying it weakened environmental protections, and failed to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"The bill is an assault upon the nation's environment," said .Maryland Congressman John Dingell speaking for the Democrats. "Rollbacks of the Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act. Attacks on the nation's rivers and the conservation provisions that protect fish and wildlife. Abusive new provisions, conferring special benefits on electrical utilities."

Republicans rejected these allegations. Republican Congressman Billy Tauzin said the legislation addresses specific problems with the nation's energy supply that have led to high prices, energy shortages, and a loss of jobs in the energy sector:

"This bill is critical to stopping that job loss, to building another 800,000 to a million new jobs in this economy, and to creating new initiatives in conservation and renewable fuels, and vast new initiatives to make sure we burn cleaner fuels and that, in fact, this country is better off as we move into an economic future that all of us want and desire for our country," he said.

Although President Bush got most of what he was seeking in the legislation, Republicans were unable to push through one key objective: opening the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve to oil exploration.

The Senate is expected to vote on the final energy legislation later this week, sending it on to President Bush for signature.