(August 22, 2003) In a surprising development, the Senate passed an energy bill late 31 July by a vote of 84-14, at the end of a day that began with the likelihood that Senate Democrats were going to stop the proposed S. 14 Energy Bill (Domenici, R-NM) and send it back to the Energy Committee. The bill that now passed replaces S. 14, the bill the Senate had been debating, and is identical to that passed by the Senate in 2002, but which never got through a Senate-House conference committee and thus never became law.
(591.5534) NIRS - Among the now adopted bill's provisions are reauthorization of the Price-Anderson Act (nuclear liability), support for reprocessing of nuclear waste, and creation of the Nuclear Power 2010 program, which seeks deployment of new nuclear reactors by 2010. The bill does not, however, include the multi-billion dollar loan guarantees for new reactors contained in S. 14, nor funding for President Bush's hydrogen initiative, which would have included US$1 billion or more for construction of a hydrogen production reactor in Idaho.
However, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici said he intends to rewrite the bill in the Senate-House conference committee to be more like S. 14. Said Domenici, "The reason I'm happy is because I'll be rewriting that bill. We're in the majority and we'll write a completely different bill." Domenici specifically said the bill will be rewritten to include more incentives for nuclear power, but it is unlikely that he can include the exact provisions that were contained in S. 14 because they are in neither the House nor Senate bills as passed.
Instead, Domenici is more likely to try to piggyback new nuclear funding on top of the Nuclear Power 2010 program. There are a number of differences between the House and Senate bills; most prominent perhaps is the House inclusion of a provision allowing oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a provision that has sparked successful Senate filibusters in the past.
Gaining new attention because of the Northeast electricity blackout are provisions related to repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUCHA) and transmission access. The fallout from the blackout makes it more likely Congress will pass an energy bill: Congress won't want to be seen as doing nothing on energy-even if the bill provides the wrong answers to the lessons learned.
Domenici and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) have promised to speed the bill through the conference committee as soon as they can. Substantive work in the conference is expected to start as soon as Congress returns to Washington after Labor Day (8 September). Both the full House and Senate must then take another vote to either accept or reject the version that comes out of the conference committee.