Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 11 News List

US lawmakers set to release energy bill amid criticism


Republican lawmakers in the US were to unveil yesterday a massive energy bill loaded with billions of dollars in incentives that they said would create US jobs while boosting oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear production.

Although the legislation has been mostly written in secret by Republicans, Democrats said the bill is about 1,700 pages long and offers an estimated US$20 billion in tax breaks. An earlier version of the bill had about US$16 billion in financial incentives.

At a news conference on Friday, Republicans refused to say how much the bill cost, preferring instead to focus on what they said would be a major boost to the US economy.

Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican and the bill manager, said the legislation would create nearly 1 million "direct and indirect" jobs.

"This bill creates jobs in virtually every segment of the economy," Domenici said. "The investment we are making in clean coal technologies will create 62,000 jobs, including 10,000 research jobs in the fields of math, engineering, physics and science at an estimated annual salary of US$125,000."

Release of the draft bill yesterday afternoon will pave the way for expected votes next week in the full House and Senate, Domenici said.

While the House is likely to approve the bill, Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster, or talk to death, the energy bill if it includes too many industry giveaways.

"It's unfortunate that the Republicans have decided to release their conference report over a weekend, when many senators are not around," said Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the senior Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee.

"We'll do the best we can to digest the details, analyzing this text for good provisions that we will be happy to support as well as those provisions which must be fixed or removed," Bingaman said.

But presidential candidate Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, said he was ready to filibuster the bill.

Lieberman is among the Democrats who oppose a provision that would shield makers of the fuel additive MTBE from contamination liability lawsuits. MTBE is a suspected carcinogen that has seeped into the groundwater of many US cities.

The US Conference of Mayors criticized the MTBE liability protection in the draft bill, saying it would force local communities to pay an estimated US$29 billion in clean-up costs that should be borne by makers of the oil-based chemical.

The bill will require US use of ethanol to stretch gasoline supplies to rise to 19 billion litres by 2012, double current consumption. Ethanol is a politically sensitive issue with broad support in the Midwest, which may make the bill difficult for Democrats to filibuster, according to lobbyists.

Other measures in the bill would reduce royalty payments for offshore oil drilling and offer tax credits to help build six new US nuclear plants.

The White House said it supported the bill, even though it did not include a measure to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. This was a pet project of the Bush administration, but is opposed by Democrats and moderate Republicans.

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