An Energy Throwback

Los Angeles Times EDITORIAL
November 19, 2003

It's clear why Republican leaders in Congress kept their national energy policy bill locked up in a conference committee room for the last month, safe from review by the public. Taxpayers, had they been given time to digest the not-so-fine print in the pork-laden legislation, would have revolted.

This throwback bill promotes tried-and-failed coal, gas, oil and nuclear industry programs at the expense of conservation and renewable energy. A Congressional Budget Office estimate puts the cost of tax credits, loan guarantees and other giveaways at $31.1 billion though once all of the pork is weighed, critics say the tab could top $100 billion.

The bill that cleared the House on Tuesday continued the welcome prohibition against oil and natural gas drilling in the Alaskan wilderness. But the rest of the bill has a frustrating business-as-usual feel. Automakers won't be required to increase the fuel efficiency of new vehicles, and the alternative power industry won't get a needed boost from a rejected requirement that electric utilities generate 10% of their electricity from renewable energy sources. Attempts to prevent another massive blackout by giving federal regulators the muscle to police the electric generation and distribution industries were stymied by power-rich states in the Southeast and Northwest.

And it gets worse: Producers of methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, the gasoline additive that is fouling groundwater in California and other states, get protection from environmental lawsuits aimed at forcing them to clean up their mess. Cash-strapped cities and states would have to pick up the MTBE cleanup costs, estimated at $29 billion. Not coincidentally, MTBE manufacturing plants are clustered in the backyards of Republican representatives who rode herd on the bill.

Democrats didn't want to be left out of the feeding frenzy; in a bipartisan effort, two farm-state senators, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), won a costly ethanol subsidy that has the National Corn Growers Assn. grinning.

How this goody-laden bill came into being is just as ugly. Republicans wrote the 1,100-page document behind closed doors and dropped it on the desks of Democrats just 48 hours before the conference committee's final meeting Monday, in which Democrats attempting damage control lost every significant vote 7-6 along party lines.

The Bush administration, which earlier ordered Congress to hold the giveaways to $8 billion, says it will accept the bill regardless of the cost. The full House rubber-stamped the bill Tuesday, and Senate leaders are confident they've stuffed enough pork into it to secure needed votes from Republicans and Democrats alike. Now it's up to senators with a conscience to reject this legislative monument to waste or to muster and sustain a filibuster.

Last modified: 19 November 2003

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