Senate Democrats to Respond with Own Energy Bill

In a rebuff to the Senate Republicans' omnibus energy bill, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plans to introduce his own comprehensive energy legislation this week, according to a spokeswoman.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) intends to take a "more centrist and balanced approach" to domestic energy issues in his bill, said the senator's spokeswoman, Jude McCartin. The Republican energy measure unveiled by Sen.Frank Murkowski (R-AK) in late February "was focused pretty heavily on the supply side," but Bingaman's legislation will propose a mix of initiatives aimed at both boosting energy supply and limiting demand, she noted.

A draft of Bingaman's measure includes a series of proposals to improve energy efficiency, reflecting the senator's belief that improved efficiency is the single most effective and least costly way for the nation to work through its short-term and long-term energy problems. "We cannot produce our way to independence from foreign oil supplies," Bingaman said two weeks ago.

Of interest to the oil and natural gas industries, the Bingaman measure is expected to address an area that the Republicans stayed clear of in their legislation --- producer access to public lands. A draft of his bill calls for an inventory to be taken of public lands with the greatest geological potential, focusing on the "most prospective areas, evaluation of geological complexity and cost of development."

Bingaman also proposes increased planning and staffing at agencies to facilitate the development of public lands. In addition, the draft seeks a review of the policies and practices that are restricting oil and gas development on non-federal lands. The proposed initiative also is expected to include a provision or provisions that seek to maximize deep-water production of oil and natural gas.

Unlike the Republican's energy legislation, the Bingaman bill will not include a provision to open the coastal plain region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration and development, McCartin said. However, it will propose tax incentives for early construction of a long-line natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska to the Lower 48 states, she noted.

Susan Parker

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