Several key players in the energy industry last Monday said that the odds favor Congress being able to get a comprehensive energy bill on President Bush’s desk for his signature by the end of this year. But at least one participant in a Washington, D.C., press briefing on the Bush administration’s new national energy policy argued that the real question is whether such legislation will truly help to solve the nation’s energy crisis or instead will prove to be little more than window dressing designed to boost the fortunes of politicians back home.

During the question and answer portion of the briefing, which was sponsored by The Energy Daily and the U.S. Energy Association, panelists were asked to comment on whether they think an energy bill will be signed into law by the end of this year and, if so, what they think is likely to be included and excluded from such a measure.

“I have never been great at predicting the timing of what Congress is able to do, but I do think that there seems to be a great sense of urgency,” said Thomas Kuhn, president of Edison Electric Institute. “But I do think that this is going to be a tough summer ahead, and given that, there’s going to be a strong movement of the constituencies out there in the country to move forward” with the energy policy, Kuhn went on to say. “So, I do think that it will be one of the leading agenda items for the Congress to deal with, and I am optimistic … that there is enough consensus that we have to move forward on both fronts — on the energy efficiency front as well as the supply and infrastructure front — that they can get something done and indeed the President can sign a bill by the end of the year,” Kuhn added.

For his part, Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), said there’s little doubt that there will be an energy bill. “I think the real question is whether the legislation is going to contribute to solving the problem or whether it’s simply going to be a token piece of legislation so members can go home and say that they’ve done something,” he said. “As Tom pointed out, if the forecasts are correct, this summer is going to provide a powerful incentive for the Congress to act,” English added. “I think members are going to need something that they can point to,” he noted.

English went on to say that it’s “doubtful” that every aspect of President Bush’s proposal will become law. “That rarely happens with any major proposal that any president has,” he said. “Does it mean that we can begin to see some relief down the road?,” English asked rhetorically. “I think we’re already moving in that direction, quite candidly, I think there are already actions within the industry that are taking place so far as the electric utility industry is concerned,” the NRECA CEO stated. “I think the real question is whether the Congress is going to focus on what is it specifically that the industry needs,” English went on to say, referring to both the utility industry and the overall energy industry.

English detailed some of the items that he thinks stand a good chance of actually being signed into law. “There’s no question there are going to be tax incentives to encourage conservation,” English said. “I don’t think there’s any question there’s going to be some relief with regard to various fuels that are used and there’s no question that there’s going to be a great deal of attention, in my opinion at least, focused on this question of competition among fuels and how do we provide this country with an energy source as cheap as we possibly can, while at the same time protecting the environment,” English stated.

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