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Energy Bill Dies as Senate Fails to End Filibuster

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Legislation backed by the Bush Administration as a master plan for America’s future energy requirements was effectively killed in the Senate Friday when supporters failed to overcome a filibuster by lawmakers who oppose drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In an outcome that startled even the victors, supporters of the omnibus energy legislation fell 10 votes short of the 60 they needed to shut off the filibuster mounted by a bipartisan coalition of pro-environment senators.

“This was a turning point for the Alaskan wilderness, for the environment and for energy policy in general,” said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.). “We’ve drawn a line in the tundra. We’ve said to the big oil companies (that) we’re not going to allow you to drill in the last great wildlife area in North America.”

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The 50-44 vote means that efforts to devise a comprehensive new national energy strategy are effectively over for this year. Although opponents of the bill said that they will begin drafting new energy legislation next week, Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), a supporter whose state would have received half of the revenues generated by new oil drilling in the Arctic, bitterly ruled out a quick compromise.

“We have killed in three days what it took over a year to develop. Form a bill out of the ashes of this one? Pick up the pieces and compromise? That’s idiotic,” Murkowski snapped.

After conceding defeat, the bill’s chief sponsor, Senate Energy Committee Chairman J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), said he will try to “pull together a new bill” but saw no point in bringing the defeated legislation back to the floor in its present form.

Whatever shape the new legislation takes next year, it will have to exclude the controversial provision to open the 1.5-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, both sides agreed.

“My hope is we can come back next week with some constructive proposals and move rapidly to get a new bill out . . . . But drilling in the Arctic--that is off the table and will not happen,” said Sen. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.), an Energy Committee member who helped lead the filibuster.

Although highly controversial in its own right, the Administration proposal to open the ecologically delicate Arctic wilderness to oil exploration became the symbolic focus of a much larger debate over the direction that a new national energy policy should take.

In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, all sides involved in the debate--the White House, the energy industry, the environmental movement and a plethora of public and special interest groups--agreed there was an urgent need for an overall strategy to lessen America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

But they remained bitterly divided over whether that strategy should emphasize the exploitation of untapped sources of oil and coal and the development of nuclear power, or whether it should stress conservation, fuel economy and the development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Closely resembling the energy plan proposed by President Bush in February, the bill that emerged from the highly conservative Energy Committee this summer was criticized by environmentalists as being strong on new production but weak on conservation.

Two issues--drilling in the Arctic and proposed increases in federally mandated fuel economy standards for cars--came to embody the push and pull of that debate. As the Administration pressed to open the rest of the Arctic to oil exploration, environmentalists argued that more oil could be saved by making automobiles more fuel efficient.

The “historic significance” of the Senate vote, said Sen. Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.), lay in the signal it sent to the Administration that energy policy must be more conservation-oriented. “This is a watershed. For decades, our approach to energy problems was just to drill deeper. With this vote, that era is over,” he said.

Many senators, including those who supported the defeated bill, said the vote also reflected the growing clout and lobbying acumen of the nation’s environmental groups, which persuaded constituents to shower their senators with letters and phone calls before the vote.

“They mobilized grass-roots opposition to the bill,” Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) said. “They proved extremely effective.” Even Johnston, gracious in defeat, conceded that the environmentalists “wrote the textbook on how to defeat a bill. My admiration goes to them for the political skill they exhibited.”

One result of the environmentalists’ campaign was that a large number of senators who had been undecided went against the bill at the last minute, upsetting the vote counts both sides had been keeping.

Among those joining the opposition vote were Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and several conservative Republicans such as Trent Lott of Mississippi and Connie Mack of Florida. Sen. John Seymour (R-Calif.) voted for the bill, while Democratic presidential hopeful Tom Harkin of Iowa voted against it. The other Democratic senator in next year’s presidential race, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, was absent.

In all, 18 Democrats and 32 Republicans voted for the bill while 35 Democrats and nine Republicans voted against it--a division that mirrored the complexities of a debate in which issues cut across party lines, often pitting regional interests against partisan loyalties.

Indeed, so complex and regionally divisive was the 498-page bill that some experts said the next effort to craft energy policy may have to be done piecemeal, with sharply contested issues such as automotive fuel economy standards going to the floor as separate bills.

“This was a very complicated bill, one that tackled everything in energy,” said one Energy Committee aide. “(Sen.) Johnston thought he could create momentum with an omnibus bill, but he also collected opponents. There was something in this bill for everyone to hate. In the end, it just fell apart under its own weight.”

Staff writer Rudy Abramson contributed to this story.

Key Elements of the Energy Bill

Here are the major provisions of the energy bill that was derailed Friday in the Senate:

Oil Development: Allows drilling in the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge; also eases offshore oil development along the East and West coasts.

Nuclear Power: Streamlines the licensing of nuclear power plants through a “one-stop” process for both construction and operation of reactors.

Natural Gas: Eases regulatory barriers to pipeline construction to increase the supply of natural gas.

Electric Utilities: Overhauls regulation of the utility industry to allow companies other than utilities to produce wholesale electricity.

Automobile Mileage: Requires transportation secretary to set new automobile mileage requirements, but requires no specific mileage targets.

Alternative-Fuel Cars: Requires automobile fleets for federal and state agencies and some private businesses to run on fuels other than gasoline.

Energy Efficiency: Establishes energy efficiency requirements for new federal buildings and private buildings with federally backed mortgages.

Source: Associated Press

RELATED STORY: D1

(Southland Edition) Vote on the Energy Bill

Here is the 50-44 roll call by which the Senate refused Friday to cut off debate and allow the National Energy Policy Act to advance toward floor action. A “yes” vote was a vote to allow Senate action on the bill and a “no” vote was a vote against considering it. Sixty votes were needed to proceed with the bill.

Democrats for--Akaka (Hawaii), Bentsen (Tex.) Bingaman (N.M.), Breaux (La.), Bumpers (Ark.), Byrd (W.V.), Conrad (N.D.), Daschle (S.D.), DeConcini (Ariz.), Dodd (Conn.), Ford (Ky.), Heflin (Ala.), Inouye (Hawaii), Johnston (La.), Mitchell (Me.), Nunn (Ga.), Pryor (Ark.), Shelby (Ala.)

Republicans for--Brown (Colo.), Burns (Mont.) Coats (Ind.), Cochran (Miss.), Craig (Ida.), D'Amato (N.Y.), Domenici (N.M.), Danforth (Mo.), Dole (Kan.), Garn (Utah), Gorton (Wash.), Hatch (Utah), Hatfield (Ore.), Helms (N.C.), Kassebaum (Kan.), Kasten (Wis.), Lugar (Ind.), McCain (Ariz.), McConnell (Ky.), Murkowski (Alaska), Nickles (Okla.), Packwood (Ore.), Pressler (S.D.), Rudman (N.H.), Seymour (Calif.), Simpson (Wyo.), Specter (Pa.), Stevens (Alaska), Symms (Ida.), Thurmond (S.C.), Wallop (Wyo.), Warner (Va.)

Democrats against--Adams (Wash.), Baucus (Mont.), Biden (Del.), Bradley (N.J.), Bryan (Nev.), Burdick (N.D.), Cranston (Calif.), Dixon (Ill.), Exon (Neb.), Fowler (Ga.), Harkin (Iowa), Glenn (Ohio), Gore (Tenn.), Graham (Fla.), Hollings (S.C.), Kennedy (Mass.), Kerry (Mass.), Kohl (Wis.), Lautenberg (N.J.), Leahy (Vt.), Levine (Mich.), Lieberman (Conn.), Metzenbaum (Ohio), Mikulski (Md.), Moynihan (N.Y.), Reid (Nev.), Riegle (Mich.), Robb (Va.), Rockefeller (W.V.), Sanford (N.C.), Sarbanes (Md.), Sasser (Tenn.), Simon (Ill.), Wellstone (Minn.), Wirth (Colo.)

Republicans against--Bond (Mo.), Chafee (R.I.), Cohen (Me.), Durenberger (Minn.), Grassley (Iowa), Lott (Miss.), Mack (Fla.), Roth (Del.), Smith (N.H.)

Democrats not voting--Boren (Okla.), Kerrey (Neb.), Wofford (Pa.), Pell (R.I.)

Republicans not voting-- Gramm (Tex.), Jeffords (Vt.)


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