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Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 12 News List

US energy bill already under fire

POWERING UP Legislation presented by the Republicans promises to create almost 1 million jobs in the sector but at a cost of US$20 billion in tax breaks and incentives

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

Republican lawmakers unveiled on Saturday a massive energy bill loaded with some US$20 billion in tax breaks they said would create US jobs while boosting oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear production.

The legislation, mostly written in secret by Republicans, carries a higher price tag than the US$16 billion in energy industry benefits proposed in an earlier version.

Republicans acknowledged the cost was higher, but said it was a small price to pay for an energy package that would create nearly 1 million American jobs.

However, the Teamsters Union criticized the draft bill for failing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, which would have created high-paying union jobs.

"First the Republican Congress and White House gave workers a jobless recovery, and now they want to give us a jobless energy package," said James Hoffa, the union president.

Democrats have said the bill's tax breaks and other provisions will cost about US$115 billion over a decade, and any new jobs would be years away. Democrats refused to comment on the draft energy plan on Saturday, saying they were still reviewing the language.

Republicans did not release the eagerly anticipated tax provisions of the bill until close to 10pm Washington time.

A special bipartisan committee of Senate and House of Representatives lawmakers will meet on Monday afternoon to debate and finalize the legislation. While the full House is likely to approve the bill on Tuesday, Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster, or talk to death, the energy bill if it includes too many industry giveaways.

The draft bill, stretching almost 1,200 pages, included incentives for all kinds of energy.

Oil and natural gas companies would benefit from a provision easing royalty payments for drilling deep wells on federal leases in the Gulf of Mexico. There would also be loan repayment guarantees and other help to build a US$20 billion pipeline to ship natural gas from Alaska to the Midwest.

In a victory for environmental groups and many Democrats, the bill does not contain provisions for drilling in the Arctic refuge, or government oil reserves off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts where drilling is banned.

The draft legislation also promotes more electric generation from wind, solar and other renewable sources.

However, the bill lacks any measures to tighten US automobile fuel standards or reduce emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Still, it does provide a tax credit of several thousands dollars for purchases of cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells or have engines that use electricity and gasoline.

The legislation also orders the government to increase the size of the US emergency oil stockpile by 50 percent to 1 billion barrels, ensuring a bigger cushion for the American economy in case of a disruption in oil imports.

One of the most contentious measures would shield makers of fuel additive MTBE from product liability lawsuits retroactive to Sept. 5, wiping out most cases already filed -- including one by New Hampshire's attorney general.

MTBE is a suspected carcinogen that has tainted underground water supplies in thousands of US cities. The bill would ban MTBE by 2015, but producers would collectively receive US$250 million a year to help them covert to other lines of business.

The bill will also require ethanol production to double to 5 billion gallons (19 billion liters) annually by 2012.

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