Energy bills stall in US Congress despite crisis

28 July 2008 17:30  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Congress is not likely to pass energy bills this week before it leaves on a month-long August recess even though high prices for oil, natural gas and gasoline loom as the top election issue, a leading Democrat said on Monday.


Senator Jeff Bingaman (Democrat-New Mexico), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that “the energy issue is front and centre in the coming election, both for the presidential contest and in congressional campaigns”.


However, despite widespread public clamouring for action by Congress on energy matters, Bingaman said he is “not confident that anything on energy topics can be passed in the Senate before the end of this week when we break for the recess”.


US chemical producers and a broad array of other manufacturing and power sector interests have been pressing Congress to lift the 27-year congressional moratorium on drilling in 85% of the resource-rich US outer continental shelf (OCS) regions.


Earlier this month President George Bush lifted an executive order that had maintained a similar offshore development ban since 1990 and he urged the Democrat majority in Congress to end the congressional bar on OCS energy development.


Democrats in Congress have been pressing for legislation that would increase energy conservation and efficiencies and exert greater federal control over energy futures trading. 


Republicans have largely been proposing measures that would increase oil and natgas supplies, such as opening offshore areas and Western states’ oil shale deposits to development.


Both sides accuse the other of blocking their respective energy relief bills in an effort to turn voter discontent over energy prices against the other party.


If Congress fails to pass some sort of energy relief measure this week before the month-long recess, it is no more likely to take any action on energy issues in the few weeks left to the legislative calendar in September. 


By then, all members of the House and one-third of senators will be focused almost exclusively on their campaigns for re-election in the 4 November national vote.


Asked at a press conference if Senate Democrats and Republicans could come together quickly on an omnibus energy bill that would include both parties’ legislative priorities, Bingaman said “there is a real constraint in the Senate that we would encounter in trying to get some of those elements approved”.


He noted that it takes 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to overcome even minority objections to any given energy measure, adding that a multi-element bill would have difficulty being passed.


“There are also time constraints involved, given the few days left this week before the recess and the time it would take to consider a bill with multiple elements,” he said.


He charged that it was disingenuous of Bush to suggest that lifting the congressional ban on offshore energy development would bring oil and gasoline prices down.


“It is hard for me to see how lifting the moratorium on drilling off the US east and west Coasts would be a substantial factor in bringing down the price of oil,” Bingaman said.


He also voiced strenuous objection to a bipartisan bill that would give individual coastal states authority to authorise drilling in federal territory off their shores, arguing that such a plan would give individual states veto power over what should be a national energy policy decision.


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