WASHINGTON (Dow Jones) - The Senate, fresh from a compromise on judicial nominees, is set to test whether that same bipartisan spirit will extend to a broad energy bill, slated to go to the Senate Tuesday for debate.
Democratic lawmakers on Monday described the 768-page energy bill, hammered out in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as a "very good bill," but added that they will try to add several provisions likely be opposed by a some Republicans.
Democrats hope to add caps on pollution to the final legislation and also to address global warming, increase the amount of electricity produced from renewable energy sources and reduce U.S. oil imports.
In contrast to efforts to pass an energy bill during the last Congress, Senate Republicans decided to slowly walk a bill through the committee process over the past four months and add provisions crucial to engender Democratic backing -- a strategy that seems to have worked so far.
"The bipartisan bill coming to the Senate is much better" than previous versions, said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., at a press briefing.
But Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said: "I hope the U.S. Senate will go even further." Dorgan is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Democrats are expected to press for a greater reliance on renewable fuels, requiring electric utilities to generate 10% of their power from resources like the wind and sun. A second amendment to be offered by Senators Jim Jeffords, I- Vt., and John Kerry , D-Mass., would force utilities to produce 20% of their electricity from renewable resources.
Yet another amendment will call for a 40% reduction in U.S. oil imports by 2025. The nation currently imports more than half of its oil.
President Bush has been calling on Congress to pass energy legislation since 2001, but lawmakers have clashed on issues such as liability protection for manufacturers of the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, and whether the Arctic National Wildlife National Refuge should be opened for oil drilling.
Republican senators chose not to address either of these issues in the current version of the bill to avoid contentious debate.
Karen Wayland, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental lobbying group, said the energy committee "punted" on all of the hard issues, leaving them to be debated on the Senate floor.
Environmental groups say the current draft bill is only marginally better than an earlier version, which they argue relied too heavily on fossil fuels like oil and coal to meet the nation's energy needs at the expense of developing more renewable resources.
The bill drafted by the energy committee would encourage expanded oil and natural-gas exploration on federal lands; boost investments in clean coal technology; provide incentives to develop new nuclear power plants; and increase output of renewable fuels like ethanol.
The House passed its own version of the energy bill in April. Negotiations to iron out differences between the two versions will begin as soon as the Senate is finished with its version, which lawmakers hope to accomplish before the July 4 recess. Dow Jones Newswires 06-13-05 2051ET Copyright (C) 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.