House Recycles $31 Billion Energy Bill

Amid charges of election-year grandstanding, House Republicans pushed through a $31 billion package of energy proposals Tuesday — identical to a bill they approved six months ago only to have it die in the Senate.

Democrats accused House GOP leaders of playing political games by offering a bill they know has no chance in the Senate, where most Democrats and a few Republicans killed the legislation in November.

At a news conference Tuesday, Sen. Pete Domenici (search) of New Mexico, Republican chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee (search), said he welcomed the House trying to "draw attention" to the energy issue.

But he said, "I don't think the Senate will take these bills up."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), R-Texas, said that going back to 2001, the House has passed energy legislation three times without a bill getting out of Congress. He blamed Senate Democrats.

"We're bringing it up again because the other body has not seen fit to even bring it up for a vote," added Rep. Joe Barton (search), R-Texas, the bill's floor leader.

But House Democrats complained that they were prevented from offering amendments to the legislation that might make it more palatable to the Senate, including provisions dealing with market abuses in the electricity industry (search).

Rep. John Dingell, D- Mich., called on the Republican majority to "stop playing games and having summer reruns" over energy policy.

"We're simply recycling old bills for political points," complained Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House.

But a Democratic attempt to kill the bill failed 230-192. The House then passed the legislation 244-178 with all but a handful of Republicans voting for it.

The bill includes $31 billion in tax incentives to promote energy production and conservation and support other programs, including an expansion of ethanol use as an additive in gasoline and efforts to help natural gas, coal and nuclear industries.

In negotiations last year, its price tag grew so large that conservative GOP senators joined Democrats — who oppose the bill for other reasons — to kill it in the Senate. House leaders, however, made no attempt to modify or scale it back, even though the Bush administration has said it could not support such an expensive measure.

The House vote on the recycled energy package was the opening salvo in what GOP leaders dubbed as "energy week" to dramatize the failure of Congress to revamp the nation's energy policies even as gasoline prices and other energy prices are soaring.

Separately, the House by a 229-186 vote approved a bill that would ease environmental regulations for production of renewable energy, including electricity developed from wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., the bill's sponsor, argued it would speed up permit approval for renewable energy facilities. But environmentalists strongly opposed the measure and maintained that it would lead to construction of dams and garbage incinerators without adequate environmental review.

"This bill is a cynical wolf in sheep's clothing," said Andrew Fahlund of American Rivers, an environmental advocacy group.

House leaders planned more energy bills for Wednesday with a likelihood that those, too, will pass.

Among the bills is yet another try to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil development.

A proposed bill to be considered Wednesday would require that some of the proceeds from developing the refuge's oil be used to fund a health program for miners who lost their health benefits because of mine closings. The measure also would extend an abandoned mine cleanup program.

Some GOP lawmakers hope that linking the Arctic refuge issue with miners' health benefits might bring additional support among Senate Democrats.