Reworked Bill Cuts Cost But Still Provides Jobs

Posted February 20, 2004 at 10:22am

My new, leaner energy bill creates more than 800,000 new jobs and does more to revitalize rural America than any legislation passed by Congress in the past 30 years — at less than half the cost of the old energy bill.

Last year’s energy bill was two votes short of cloture. After talking with Senators, I realized that bill couldn’t pass the Senate in its old form. It cost too much and had some provisions this Senate won’t support.

I have reworked the bill to keep its heart, cut its cost and strip away most of its controversy. With this new bill, I am confident we can get the two votes necessary to pass comprehensive energy legislation this year.

The energy bill I put on the Senate calendar — with the assistance of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) — accomplishes most of what the old bill accomplished at 45 percent of the cost.

It’s still a jobs bill. We create more than 400,000 jobs with the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline. Moreover, we will stabilize the skyrocketing natural gas prices that have driven thousands of American jobs overseas. Besides creating new jobs, we will help staunch the hemorrhage of the jobs we have now to foreign countries.

We create more than 214,000 new jobs with the ethanol provision. That provision alone will expand household incomes in rural America by an estimated $51.7 billion in the next decade. I say it’s about time that rural America enjoyed some prosperity.

At a cost of only $14 billion over 10 years, this bill will be the cheapest jobs bill to come out of Congress this year.

Frist and Daschle assisted me in putting this leaner bill on the Senate calendar under Rule 14 because Republicans and Democrats alike share the goal of comprehensive energy legislation that creates jobs and lower energy prices. We share a goal of conserving more energy and producing cleaner energy.

We don’t all agree on how to get there. I think both parties have learned these past three years that energy production and conservation is, first and foremost, a regional issue, not a partisan issue.

When I accepted the chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year, I knew it would be tough to get an energy bill through the Senate. I watched my esteemed colleagues struggle to do it in the 107th Congress.

But now, I know it in my bones in a way I didn’t know it a year ago. After hundreds of hours of negotiating, I understand how provisions that solve energy problems for one region of the country can create more problems for another region.

I believe this energy bill does more to increase energy supply, encourage conservation and lower energy prices in every part of this country than any energy bill you are likely to see in the next several years. We have worked hard to address the unique energy challenges each region faces. The regional solutions in the old bill are still in the new bill.

This bill moves us away from the natural gas crisis looming on the horizon — a crisis that could be economically devastating for the 64 million natural gas customers in this country. We are experiencing the early warning signs of that natural crisis like the breeze that announces a hurricane.

Did you know that natural gas prices were 60 percent higher this winter than last winter? In some parts of the country, it cost consumers $300 and $400 a month to heat and light their homes this winter. If Congress does nothing, wait and see what it will cost to heat and light a home with natural gas in five years.

The looming gas crisis has prompted the federal government to redo its 25-year energy forecast, sharply increasing its prediction of coal consumption in anticipation of tight natural gas supplies and ever-climbing prices.

In the coming years, Americans may rely on coal more heavily than any time in the past 30 years. Wind and solar energies can’t begin to meet that demand, though their use will expand exponentially with the tax credits in my new energy bill.

Rising coal consumption makes our $2 billion investment in clean coal technology critically important to our environment and our children. The energy realities of the next 25 years means this energy bill is as much about blue skies and clear water as it is about new jobs and lower energy prices.

Americans want this bill. They want the jobs this bill creates. They want lower energy prices. They want clean and abundant energy. Republicans and Democrats alike understand that. That’s why we’re going to pass an energy bill this year.

Passing comprehensive energy legislation is tough any year. People tell me it will be nearly impossible during a presidential election year, when the nation will be consumed with campaign politics.

I disagree. I think Members of Congress are more keenly attuned to the needs of the American people during a presidential election year than any other time. The last comprehensive energy passed by Congress was passed by the 102nd Congress on Oct. 8, 1992 — a month before a presidential election. I believe we will accomplish the same feat in this election year.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) is chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.