The quest for a wide-ranging energy bill now moves to the Senate after House passage April 21 of a 1,018-page package that includes provisions aimed at speeding construction of gas pipeline and electricity transmission lines. The bill also boosts nuclear power and opening part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

Key Items In House Energy Measure:
Establishes mandatory electricity reliability standards
$8 billion in tax breaks, including accelerated depreciation for electricity transmission and natural gas distribution lines
Takes steps to speed approvals for siting new transmission lines
Repeals 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act
Opens part of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling
Sets federal renewable-fuels standard, 5 billion gallons in 2012
Establishes new energy-efficiency standards for federal buildings
Extends Price-Anderson Act nuclear-contractor indemnification through 2025
Provides liability relief for makers of MTBE
SOURCE: H.R. Bill 6, House Energy and Commerce Committee

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) plans to have his panel vote on its bill in May and hopes for floor action by early summer. President Bush wants the legislation on his desk by August.

Domenici is expected to exclude House provisions on ANWR and liability relief for producers of gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). Opposition from some Senate Republicans and Democrats to an MTBE provision helped kill a 2003 energy bill.

Another MTBE battle is looming. Says Frank Maisano, an energy lobbyist: "The important thing is that the Senate get a bill...reasonably quickly so that we can move to the hard part of figuring out what the compromises are going to be. That’s where the real game is played."

Environmentalists seeking stronger conservation provisions are likely to prefer the Senate bill to the House’s. They also may get an assist from the White House. In an April 20 statement, the Office of Management and Budget said the House’s bill’s tax breaks exceed the $6.7 billion Bush proposed, but omit credits he desires, including ones for renewable power and hybrid vehicles.

Among construction-related provisions, the House cut the write-off period for gas distribution lines to 15 years, from 35 years now, and for "electricity transmission assets" to 15 years, from 20. It expanded the five-year writeoff for pollution-control facilities to powerplants built before 1976. In the nuclear power section, it would extend contractors’ Price-Anderson Act indemnification through 2025. It now is to expire at the end of 2006.

The House measure sets mandatory reliability standards for electricity and allows federal officials to issue permits to build transmission lines in "national interest" corridors. It allows the Dept. of Energy to issue environmental reviews for transmission projects and repeals the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act.

Nominees: Picks for EPA, Civil Works On Hold in Senate
President Bush's nominees for two posts that affect the construction industry have been stalled in the Senate. Stephen Johnson, Bush's pick to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been blocked by Sen.Thomas Carper (D-Del.). Carper has criticized EPA for months for failing to give him what he views as adequate economic data for Clean Air bills. John Paul Woodley Jr., Bush's choice to be assistant Army secretary for civil works, faces "holds" by Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, both Republicans. The assistant secretary oversees Corps of Engineers non-military programs. Shelby and Sessions are unhappy about Corps actions related to Alabama’s dispute with Georgia over water availability from two river basins.

Health: Asbestos Bill Boosts Trust Fund
A Senate proposal would create a $140-billion, 30-year trust fund to pay asbestos victims in lieu of litigation. That�s up from a $124-billion, 27-year fund in last year�s failed try for an asbestos deal. The new plan from Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) grants higher, illness-based monetary awards than last year�s proposal. Unlike the 2004 plan, the new one doesn�t require victims to share such awards with insurance companies. Also added is medical screening for high-risk workers. At an April 26 Judiciary hearing, unions and insurers noted that important changes were made in the trust fund plan, but said more are needed before they can support it. Labor complains that key medical criteria agreed to last year have been changed, eliminating some illness categories.

Embassies: Senate Clears $592 Million For Baghdad Project
The fate of funding for a proposed U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad will rest with a House-Senate conference committee. Negotiators will try to reconcile differences between an $81.3-billion emergency spending bill that the Senate passed April 21 and an $81.4-billion measure the House approved March 16. The Senate bill has $592 million for the Baghdad project; the House version bars spending for the complex.

Compiled by Tom Ichniowski and Sherie Winston