By a 249-to-183 vote, the House has cleared an energy bill that is similar to legislation that failed the Senate last year. The Senate is expected to vote on a new energy bill in May.
The House bill holds a strong tilt to traditional energy providers over companies using renewable or other nonfossil, nonnuclear energy sources. And it carries several provisions that have generated sharp divisions in Congress. In particular, one provision gives liability protection to makers of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive responsible for contaminating groundwater aquifers in 29 states.
Opponents of the House legislation say the MTBE provisions would require states and municipalities to pick up the estimated $29 billion water cleanup tab. These liability provisions killed last year's energy bill in the Senate, and in the House, the MTBE language passed by only six votes.
Other contentious sections of the House energy bill allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, give the federal government primary authority to approve liquefied natural gas terminals, and provide economic incentives to companies building new gasoline refineries in poor communities.
The legislation offers up to $12 billion in tax breaks over 10 years, and billions more in funding for a variety of federal energy R&D programs sprinkled throughout the bill. The Bush Administration has sought an energy bill with a total cap of $6.7 billion but supports the House bill. The President is pushing Congress to approve an energy bill before the August recess and last week sketched out issues the Administration wants to see addressed in a final package.