31 July 2003 20:28 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--The Senate hit a major impasse Thursday on an energy policy bill as Republicans tried to block a flurry of Democratic amendments on everything from electricity regulations to clean-air standards.
Republicans and Democrats haggled for much of the morning and early afternoon today about who is to blame for the slow progress made this week on the energy bill. And both party leaders accused each other of "obstructing" progress and "playing politics."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said today he would invoke a Senate rule tomorrow morning limiting debate if progress is not made. He also offered to scrap the current bill and re-introduce an energy bill passed by the Senate last year. That bill died during compromise negotiations with the House.
The Senate has not yet taken up provisions that would increase access to natural gas and offer long-term solutions to the domestic gas shortage – an issue crucial for the chemical industry.
The bill includes money and incentives to build a gas pipeline from Alaska to the continental US. But provisions to boost liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports and open up restricted lands to drilling could face some opposition.
Thom Gilroy, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), said there is some frustration that the Senate has not dealt with those issues yet. Chemical industry lobbyists, he said, would support an effort by Senator Frist to limit debate and move the bill closer to full passage.
The bill stalled today on electricity provisions amid speculation that large utility companies are pushing hard – perhaps effectively – to kill or slow the bill to prevent changes to the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) that could hurt large, diversified power companies dominating certain markets.
The Senate’s Republican leadership had vowed to complete the Senate’s version of the energy bill before adjourning for its August recess at the end of this week. Yet both sides began to acknowledge today that the Senate can’t complete the bill by Friday night.
Republicans have also contributed to delays in debate by forcing votes on highly controversial judicial candidates. Senate debate last night and this morning focused on whether to continue debate on those judicial nominations.
Senator Pete Domenici (Republican-New Mexico), who is leading floor debate on the energy bill, defended Republican leadership today and blamed Democrats for putting forth "unreasonable" amendments. Meanwhile, Democrats today labelled the energy bill "The Enron Protection Act" after the Senate failed to pass stricter penalties for market manipulators.
"I’m not here to discuss the policies of our leaders," Domenici said. "But I know we could have accomplished a lot more than we have to this day. Any reasonable amendment we had could have been debated."
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