Pressure is rising on Capitol Hill for lawmakers to take action on stalled comprehensive energy legislation, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said on Wednesday. He also gave a thumbs down to the idea of breaking pieces of the energy bill off and trying to move them as separate measures.

“Pressure is beginning to build,” Barton told reporters after appearing before the National Energy Marketers Association (NEMA) annual membership meeting in Washington, DC.

“No Senator or House member or the President likes the energy prices that we have today,” Barton said. “This latest decision by OPEC apparently to cut production is not helpful.” OPEC on Wednesday moved to slash crude oil production by one million barrels per day in April.

“It’s going to start warming up,” the lawmaker noted. “People are going to start using their air conditioners more in the South…There are enough Senators running for reelection” and they are “going to start getting hit in your town meetings and your civic meetings,” where Barton said questions about energy are likely to crop up.

As Congress works to pass an energy bill, Barton recently said that he does not plan to back down on the issue of a liability waiver for producers of a gasoline additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). The slimmed down version of the energy bill pending in the Senate does not include a MTBE safe-harbor provision.

The chairman of the House Energy Committee reiterated his position on MTBE on Wednesday. “I’m saying that MTBE needs to be, deserves to be, protected against frivolous lawsuits simply because it’s MTBE. Everything else is open for debate and discussion. If there’s specific issues on cleanup and funding and states’ rights to ban it — we’re fine on that. It’s just that you can’t sue MTBE because it’s MTBE.”

When asked about the idea of moving pieces of the energy bill individually, Barton said, “That’s not going to happen. I’m not going to speak for the Senate, but it’s not going to happen in the House.”

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) recently suggested that the Senate select the energy provisions that have the broadest support and are likely to do the most good and pass them individually or in small packages (see Daily GPI, March 10). Bingaman is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Barton said that the House wants “the bill that we’ve already passed the conference report on. That’s going to be our opening position and in all probability, that may be our final position, but we want to listen to our friends in the Senate and if they figure another way to get there, we’re open to that. We don’t want a piecemeal bill and we don’t want a stripped down bill and we don’t want a bill that lets the trial lawyers clean the pockets of legitimate producers of energy in this country.”

“It’s vital that we pass” the energy bill, Kyle McSlarrow, Deputy Secretary of Energy, told the NEMA meeting. “It’s been three years.” McSlarrow added, “This must get done.”

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