Domenici criticizes tax, renewable electricity provisions (Photo: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (Republicans)).
A sweeping House-passed energy bill, which would boost fuel-economy standards for cars and set stricter efficiency standards for vehicles and buildings, has quickly run into a roadblock in the Senate.
Supporters of the House measure lost a key procedural vote in the Senate on Dec. 7, less than 24 hours after the bill had cleared the House. The Senate action now will launch a new set of negotiations to make changes in the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sought to limit floor debate on the energy bill and thus put the measure on track to passage. Reid and his allies mustered 53 votes on the "cloture motion," but that fell short of the 60 needed under Senate rules to cut off debate.
Senate critics of the House-approved bill focus their objections mainly on three provisions. Some don't like the House bill's tax increases aimed at major oil companies, which would offset breaks it also contains to boost energy conservation and alternative power sources.
Secondly, lawmakers from the South and elsewhere oppose the House bill's requirement that electric utilities get 15% of their power from wind and other renewable sources by 2020. They argue that their regions lack enough renewable energy sources to meet the 15% goal, and contend the mandate would drive up electricity bills there.
Thirdly, some senators are unhappy with House legislation's "renewable fuels" provision treats ethanol fuels derived from "advanced biofuels"—that is, ethanol made from such plants as switchgrass, not from corn.
The Senate energy committee's top Republican, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, said the failed cloture vote didn't mark the end of the bill. But he added, "We have to do something about both the taxes and the...15% that is required for electricity" from renewable sources. The version of energy legislation that the Senate passed in June had no tax title and lacked the renewable electricity provision.
Domenici said, "An energy bill that contains a [fuel-economy] compromise, a strong renewable fuels standard and energy efficiency improvements is the right approach, and I'm willing to go back to work on such a bill right away."
If the Senate does make changes in the House-passed bill, the amended measure would go back to the House for another vote.
The Senate vote was a setback for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats there, who a day earlier were celebrating their bill's passage by a 235-181 vote.
Pelosi said after the Senate vote that she was disappointed by the outcome, but added, "The House will work with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to pass a strong energy bill and send it to the President's desk for his signature."
There is substantial backing in the Senate for other major parts of the House bill, notably its mandate to raise the fuel economy standard to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40% hike over the current level.
Provisions dealing with greater energy efficiency for buildings also have wide support.