House energy bill falls short of bipartisan solution
The U.S. House has approved a comprehensive energy bill that departs from a bipartisan proposal by Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie's admirable effort to craft a comprehensive energy plan worthy of bipartisan support has been cast aside. Instead, the Democratic House leadership has pushed through a surrogate measure on a party-line vote that is doomed either in the Senate or by presidential veto, while providing Democrats political cover from voters angry about high gasoline prices.
In a news release following House approval of the bill by a 236-189 vote, Abercrombie said the bill endorsed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi "drew heavily" from legislation that he and Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., had introduced.
Not heavily enough, as bipartisanship was pushed aside upon the bill's introduction. Peterson voted against the Pelosi-endorsed bill, along with 87 of the 92 Republican House members who had signed on with 45 Democrats as cosponsors of the Peterson-Abercrombie bill. In all, only 15 Republicans voted for Pelosi's preferred version.
A key aspect of both bills would lift the ban on off-shore drilling for oil and natural gas. The Peterson-Abercrombie bill would have opened up drilling beyond 25 miles from U.S. shorelines.
The bill backed by Pelosi, a longtime opponent of offshore drilling, would keep the ban in effect within 50 miles of the shore. It would allow drilling from 50 to 100 miles from the shore if adjacent states gave their approval and would extend it beyond 100 miles with or without such approval. That means that 88 percent of the estimated 18 billion barrels of oil in waters now under drilling bans would remain off-limits.
Peterson and Abercrombie had proposed that 30 percent of the revenue from oil and gas royalties and leasing fees be given to coastal states. The Pelosi bill struck that provision, effectively removing the incentive for coastal states to give approval to any off-shore drilling.
"Without any incentive to produce off their coast," Peterson said in a news release, "the bill essentially locks up the first 100 miles of coastline where most of our resources are located."
The bill retains some of the measures proposed by Peterson and Abercrombie that would use royalties and the rolling back of nearly $18 billion in tax breaks over 10 years to fund efforts to expand alternative energy, such as wind, solar and biomass. However, Peterson said it falls short of providing "a sustainable funding mechanism to develop alternative and renewable energy sources."
What began as an earnest effort by a bipartisan working group of 25 House members led by Peterson and Abercrombie has turned into a political football. Unencumbered by an upcoming election, they should resume their effort next year to produce a true compromise with presidential backing.