Bipartisan Group Tries to End Senate Gridlock on Energy

Posted August 1, 2008 at 11:32am

Capping off weeks of partisan stalemate over energy policy, a bipartisan group of 10 Senators Friday unveiled their proposal for breaking the impasse when Congress returns from the August recess.

The plan that incorporates new drilling off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts faces an uncertain future since neither Democratic nor Republican leadership has endorsed it.

“I think it’s safe to say that our leadership on both sides are somewhat uncomfortable,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), one of the leaders of the group along with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

Conrad and Chambliss vowed that the group would work hard during August to build support for their proposal to convince Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to consider it for floor debate.

Reid expressed hope that the plan would serve as a starting point to overcome the gridlock over energy but hinted that it would not be the bill that he brings to the floor in September.

“While I do not agree with every part of it, I very much appreciate the bipartisan spirit in which it was constructed,” Reid said in a statement. “Along with the National Clean Energy Summit I will host this month in Nevada and September’s bipartisan energy summit, this group’s ideas should be helpful as we craft comprehensive energy legislation.”

In addition to a cautious reaction from leadership, the plan faces other obstacles. Many liberals will object to opening the waters off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida to more oil drilling and exploration. Conservatives are likely to balk at provisions repealing some tax breaks for oil companies.

The bill also attempts to create incentives to convert 85 percent of vehicles to alternative fuels within 20 years and extends several renewable energy tax breaks.

Asked why they did not come forward with the proposal earlier in the Senate’s energy debate, Chambliss said the partisan situation was too sensitive and the group needed time to forge a consensus.

“The well is pretty poisoned right now,” Chambliss said.

Overall, the group of 10 said the bill attempts to strike a balance between additional domestic oil production, conservation, and a transition to alternative, renewable fuels.

“This bill will do more to lower gas prices today than anything Congress has done in recent memory,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said.

The group, made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, is comprised of conservatives and centrists. In addition to Conrad, Chambliss and Landrieu, members are Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and John Thune (R-S.D.).