Acknowledging that the current Congress has been marred by fighting over energy issues, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, last Thursday said he intends to “push early and hard” for a bipartisan, comprehensive approach to energy policy in the upcoming 111th Congress.

“There is a great deal of work that needs to be done” with respect to energy issues, Bingaman said in a speech on the Senate floor, adding that the Congress’ record on energy this year has been less than acceptable.

Due to “partisan rancor…we do not have as much to show [for] our efforts as I would like,” he said. But “I am pleased that in the past few weeks we [in the Senate] have begun to find a bipartisan way forward on energy again. We put together an energy tax incentive package that won very broad support here in the Senate and passed with a margin of 93 to 2” last Wednesday.

However, the House and Senate were at an impasse over the tax incentive legislation Friday, as the House passed its own version rather than accept the Senate tax package at face value. The likelihood of a compromise being struck between the two houses before Congress adjourns was tenuous at best (see related story).

In the continuing resolution (CR), which the House passed and the Senate was set to pass this weekend, “the moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration has been lifted for much of the Outer Continental Shelf. That’s a development that I support,” Bingaman said. When the CR is signed into law by President Bush, the existing federal government ban on drilling off the Pacific and East coasts and in parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico will expire at the end of the federal government’s current fiscal year on Tuesday (see related story).

“We’ve also fully funded the direct loan program for retooling the auto industry, permitting up to $25 billion in loans to be made to help move our transportation sector into a cleaner and more energy-efficient future,” he said.

“I hope that all of these accomplishments make it across the finish line and actually become law…If they do, they will help set the stage for what I believe will be a re-emergence of bipartisanship on energy after this election is behind us and as we reconvene…next year as the 111th Congress.”

Bingaman spelled out the challenges facing Congress in 2009:

Looking to next year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who sits on the Senate energy panel, said Congress needs to come up with a “good, comprehensive energy policy that works for this nation.”

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