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Washington: Bipartisan Senate Group Unveils Energy Plan

August 2, 2008

By Herman Wang, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

Aug. 2–WASHINGTON — Seeking to end political gridlock over gas prices, a bipartisan group of 10 senators from eight states, including Tennessee and Georgia, unveiled an energy plan Friday that includes increased oil drilling and expanded tax credits for alternative fuels and technology.

The $84 billion plan would be paid for entirely by closing tax loopholes enjoyed by oil companies and new revenues from offshore drilling leases.

“I sat there on the Senate floor hearing people talk about the Democratic plan and the Republican plan, and I realized that nothing was going to get done,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who co-chaired meetings of the self-dubbed “Gang of 10″ with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. “It was pretty obvious that there are common areas we agree on.”

Sen. Conrad said the five Democrats and five Republicans, which also included Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., met for about six weeks to formulate the bipartisan plan.

Congress has been deadlocked on what to do about gas prices mostly due to Republicans’ insistence on and Democrats’ objections to offshore oil drilling provisions.

“We believe it is critically important that any plan be balanced, that it include serious conservation measures, as well as additional (oil) production incentives and a means to improve the energy security of the country,” Sen. Conrad said.

The plan, called the “New Energy Reform Act of 2008,” would open limited areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the outer continental shelf off the Atlantic coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to oil drilling.

However, it does not include drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a nonstarter for most Democrats.

Provisions that call for oil companies to pay for the bill through royalties and leases are a concession from Republicans.

In addition, the package calls for a $20 billion “Apollo Project-like” effort to develop vehicle technologies, such as advanced batteries, with the goal of transitioning 85 percent of the country’s new automobiles to nonpetroleum-based fuels within 20 years.

It also extends renewable energy and conservation tax incentives through 2012, offers a $2,500 tax credit for consumers to purchase highly fuel-efficient vehicles, extends the $2,500 tax credit for hybrid cars, and invests $2.5 billion in research on next-generation biofuels and infrastructure.

“The security of the American economy and the affordability of energy in this country depends on the Congress coming together and developing all of our resources and committing ourselves to conservation,” Sen. Isakson said.

With Congress having adjourned Friday for a five-week recess, Sen. Corker said he hopes the Senate will take up the plan when it returns in September.

Leaders from both parties indicated they were open to taking up the plan.

“Certainly, compromise has been a big part of this,” Sen. Corker said. “That’s what it takes for something to happen in this body.”

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Copyright (c) 2008, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

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