Senators ready dueling energy plans
By Chris Baltimore
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate on Thursday set the stage for a divisive energy policy debate with two dueling party-line bills to combat high gasoline prices.
With Senate Democrats promising to unveil a new proposal to tame record-high U.S. pump prices averaging $3.60 a gallon on Friday, Republicans rolled out their proposal that would open a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, among other things.
"Talk is cheap, but gas is not," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, flanked by 11 other Republicans.
The GOP proposal will compete with a Democratic version which Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to detail on Friday.
Reid has said he wants to call a vote on a new energy package by late May, before lawmakers depart for their home states for a Memorial Day holiday recess and face voter ire over gasoline prices.
Both parties seem to agree on a proposal to require the federal government to stop filling the U.S. emergency crude oil reserve until oil prices fall from current levels of more than $110 a barrel.
Beyond that, the Republican plan is heavy on supply-side ideas which could tap up to 24 billion barrels of new oil supply. Democrats have traditionally leaned toward demand-side energy solutions like fuel-efficient cars.
"What we are hearing from the White House and from the Republicans is the same song, same dance: drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat. "We know we can't drill our way out of this problem."
Several of the Republican proposals -- like ANWR drilling and opening more offshore areas to drilling -- have been rejected by the Senate before.
However, Sen. Pete Domenici, New Mexico Republican, said lawmakers might see things differently now that crude oil prices have risen more than five-fold since 2002.
"If you voted against it before, take another look at it with oil at $115 a barrel," Domenici said.
Among other things, the GOP proposal would:
- Allow states to petition the federal government to allow oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts;
- Suspend filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for 180 days;
- Require production of 6 billion gallons of coal-derived transport fuels by 2022;
- Repeal a 1-year moratorium on drilling in oil shale regions in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah;
- Repeal previous legislation prohibiting federal agencies from using alternative fuels that emit more greenhouse gases than conventional sources, which has been viewed as a de facto ban on U.S. government use of fuels refined from the Canadian oil sands.
(Editing by Christian Wiessner)