On an 85-to-12 vote last week, the Senate passed national energy legislation that differs significantly from a version passed by the House in April, setting up a difficult House-Senate conference to resolve the two bills under a tight schedule.
Among the differences, the Senate bill requires utilities to generate at least 10% of their electricity with renewable sources by 2020, offers $14 billion in tax breaks with a tilt toward conservation and renewable energy, and says global warming is real and the U.S. must eventually cut carbon emissions through mandatory measures.
The House bill is silent on global warming. It offers $8 billion in tax breaks and focuses them on traditional energy sources, such as fossil fuels and nuclear power. The House bill also contains provisions that the Senate could not agree upon and that Senate Republican and Democratic party leaders specifically kept out of their bill: language protecting oil companies from liability for drinking water contamination due to the gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and language opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration. If House Republicans retain these provisions in the bill during conference, Senate leaders may find it impossible to get support from 60 senators needed to overcome a filibuster.
Congressional leaders intend to arrange a conference committee immediately after returning from the July Fourth recess. The conference may be large, with conferees representing a dozen committees, and the schedule will be compressed to meet demands by the White House and Republican leaders to hammer out an agreement, marshal the compromise bill through both bodies, and send it to the President in the three weeks left before the August recess.