House Lawmakers Introduce Energy Bill

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a revised energy bill Wednesday designed to "lead the world into an economy beyond oil."

The bill's introduction was timed as a response to the energy initiatives outlined in President Bush's State of the Union address delivered Tuesday night.

"Oil is not limitless," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., at a press conference. "The world faces an acute shortage of liquid fuels."

Countries like China already focus on a post-oil society and America needs to catch up to compete, the congressman said.

Bartlett, the first member of Congress to purchase a hybrid vehicle, is an original co-sponsor of the DRIVE Act, Dependence Reduction through Innovation in Vehicles and Energy, which presents a refined version of the Fuel Choices for American Security Act from the 109th Congress, which did not pass the House last year.

The bill is sponsored by about 60 other House members from both parties who "perhaps agree on little else," said Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., who authored the bill

The purpose of the bill is to achieve liquid fuel independence through alternative energy sources. Some of the key points include incentives for the auto industry to produce flexible fuel, hybrid and electric vehicles; the conversion of gas stations to "fuel stations," where consumers can plug in an electric car or fill up on ethanol; as well as tax credits for Americans who buy flexible fuel cars.

The bill focuses on issues that unite the parties and excludes divisive issues that blocked the bill in the past, particularly offshore drilling, said the other author Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.

The legislation also works to get consumers on board.

Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., noted that "the bill doesn't pick a winner," but instead "lets the marketplace decide."

Consumers will judge what size and performance they want, he continued, in terms of a hybrid, ethanol or other type of flexible fuel vehicle.

The bill shows similarities to the president's energy policy in that it outlines methods to reduce dependence on imported oil by 2.5 million barrels per day by 2015 and 5 million barrels per day by 2025.

Engel said the president was supportive when Engel ran it briefly by him after his speech Tuesday night.

The bill's references to national security also aligned with the president's speech.

"Last year, the United States bought "$103 billion worth of oil from non-democratic countries," Kingston said.

Engel added that the result of such large spending abroad is "in essence funding the terrorists."

Bartlett added a reality check to the enthusiasm of the other speakers at the end of the conference.

"I want to tone down what you can expect from this, he said.

"We use an incredible amount of energy ... as the Chinese proverb goes: 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,' and this is a single step."

Large automakers and oil companies, who don't take mandates from Washington well, are expected to oppose the bill, Kingston said after the news conference.

But Campbell emphasized the unbiased architecture of the bill that prevents favor of one technology over another, thus keeping all affected parties on a level playing field.

"We have to change," Engel said, "and it's good common sense to know we have to change. It's unacceptable to sit idly by."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.