August 4, 2008

Congress Breaks Without Passing Energy Legislation

By Dustin Pangonis, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.

Aug. 2--Congress adjourned Friday for five weeks without passing any legislation to bring oil prices down, leaving U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-17, feeling frustrated.

"The American people are rightfully upset at the price they're paying for energy," Holden said in a phone interview Friday. "We need to come together and find solutions. The president of the U.S., all he cares about is big oil. The speaker of the house, all she's interested in is the environmental groups."

Congress has faced criticism for taking its five-week summer break without passing legislation to offer energy relief, although Holden, who voted to adjourn, was unfazed.

"This is what happens every recess," Holden said. "They try to make it a political game."

The majority party always votes to adjourn and the minority party votes not to, Holden said. Holden said people are tired of "partisan bickering" and "political posturing" and are angry that more progress wasn't made with energy legislation.

"I regret that our leaders didn't allow us to vote on drilling on the outer-continental shelf," Holden said, but noted that the ban expires Sept. 30.

The votes that did occur, such as those aimed at requiring the president to release fuel from federal reserves or allowing oil companies access to drill in Alaska, for example, failed to pass.

"The president has refused to release fuel from the federal petroleum reserves," Holden said. This refusal, Holden said, is in spite of the effectiveness of previous releases of the oil by former President George H.W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton, as well as by President Bush himself in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

In a speech Thursday in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Bush urged Congress to pass energy legislation before adjourning for the summer.

"I asked the Congress to lift the legislative ban in June to allow there to be offshore exploration. Tomorrow is the first of August. That is now six weeks since I made the request and Democratic leaders there haven't done anything ... members are fixing to go home on their August break; they get to explain to their citizens why nothing positive has happened. Looking forward to listening to the explanations," Bush said, according to a transcript at the White House Web site.

Holden said he is now hoping the National Environment and Energy Independence Act, which he co-sponsored, will be voted on when Congress resumes in September.

"As a matter of fact, we anticipated (adjourning without passing energy legislation), that's why we worked on this bipartisan bill," Holden said. "We think the pressure on things will build."

The Energy Independence Act, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie, D-1, of Hawaii, and John Peterson, R-5, of Pennsylvania, would lift most offshore drilling restrictions.

"Drilling I'll vote for, absolutely, but you have to remember it'll be seven years until you see that oil," Holden said.

There needs to be multiple approaches to solving the energy problem, Holden said, including looking at alternative fuel sources. The Emergency Independence Act allocates funds for research into wind, solar and geothermal energy, among others. That kind of vigor is needed in the U.S., Holden said.

"The Brazilians made a tremendous investment in ethanol from sugarcane," Holden said. "We need to invest in energy with a Manhattan-like Project, (like for the atomic bomb.)"

According to The Associated Press, the House did managed to pass by a 409-4 vote on Friday its first spending bill, a $72.7 billion measure awarding generous increases to veterans programs and military base construction projects.

The spending measure is just one of a very few that even have a chance to become law before Congress adjourns for elections. It awards generous increases for veterans' medical care and military base construction and base closures. It is easily the most bipartisan of the 12 annual appropriations bills since it funds politically sacred veterans accounts, despite exceeding President Bush's already generous budget increase for veterans and military construction by $3.4 billion.


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