Senate To Act On Blocked Energy Bill

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Senate To Act On Blocked Energy Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Senate was expected today to attempt to pass the White House-backed energy bill, though it remained unclear if Republicans would drop a provision protecting fuel-additive makers, such as ExxonMobil Corp. and Valero Energy Corp., from lawsuits, according to a Reuters report.

The bill would offer incentives to boost production of oil, natural gas, coal, electricity and nuclear power. But the bill was derailed in the Senate Friday by Democrats and moderate Republicans who oppose a measure that would shield petrochemical companies from lawsuits for contaminating water with MTBE, a gasoline fuel additive, the report stated.

Republican leaders spent the weekend trying to map out a strategy to keep the bill alive and find a way around the contentious MTBE issue. Republicans must persuade at least two more lawmakers to support ending debate before the legislation can go to a vote. Likely targets for arm-twisting included Democrats Evan Bayh of Indiana, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Herbert Kohl and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, lobbyists told the news service.

Midwestern Democrats also are under pressure from farm groups to change sides because the energy bill promised to double U.S. consumption of corn-distilled ethanol, a rival fuel additive, according to Reuters. Ethanol is popular among farmers, who see it as a way to increase their incomes.

Republicans defended the special protection for MTBE and said lawsuits could still be filed alleging negligent use of the chemical, Reuters said. The lawmakers contend the energy bill would create tens of thousands of new jobs and help encourage energy production.

Republicans are mulling other options, including tacking much of the energy bill on to a massive, catch-all government spending bill that Congress must pass before it adjourns for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The total cost of the bill was $31 billion, including $23.5 billion in tax breaks plus production incentives and new funding. The White House sought $8 billion in tax breaks.