Democrats Offer Plan to Cut U.S. Oil Import Reliance

Senate Democrats Wednesday offered a plan to cut U.S. oil import dependence 40 percent by 2020 by requiring more use of alternative motor vehicle fuels like ethanol.

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats Wednesday offered a plan to cut U.S. oil import dependence 40 percent by 2020 by requiring more use of alternative motor vehicle fuels like ethanol.

About a dozen Democrats touted their new "Clean EDGE Act of 2006" at a Capitol Hill news conference, less than a month after Senate Republicans withdrew their plan to counteract high gasoline prices by giving $100 checks to taxpayers.

Lawmakers, including Democratic leader Harry Reid and No. 2 Democrat Dick Durbin, supported a bill to require more "flex fuel" vehicles that can burn gasoline blended with ethanol.

Democrats want to cut U.S. petroleum use by 6 million barrels per day by 2020 -- an amount equal to about 40 percent of projected imports.

That would be a faster cut than envisioned by the Bush administration, which has said it wants to slash U.S. oil use by 5 million bpd by 2025, also through the use of gasoline blended with ethanol.

Democratic legislation would require 25 percent of cars sold in the United States be capable of burning alternate fuels like ethanol-blended gasoline by 2010, rising to 50 percent by 2020.

The bill avoided the controversial issue of boosting the fuel mileage requirements of the U.S. vehicle fleet. That idea was divisive for Republicans and Democrats alike, drawing opposition from lawmakers with vehicle-making plants in their districts.

The plan also would require alternate fuel pumps to be installed at 10 percent of U.S. gas stations by 2015, and mandate that major oil companies install the pumps at stations they own.

With high pump prices a prominent theme ahead of November mid-term Congressional elections, both parties are positioning themselves as crusaders for cheaper gasoline for consumers.

Democrats are looking to lay the blame squarely on Republicans and vice versa.

"It has taken years of failed policies to get us to the present crisis," said Sen. Harry Reid, the chamber's Democratic leader. "Fortunately, Democrats have a comprehensive solution."

Republicans say Democrats have blocked many energy expansion projects that might have translated to more domestic oil supplies, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Sen. Pete Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, called the plan "a sprinkling of good ideas, a heavy helping of bad ideas and distractions, and a pathetic absence of any effort to increasing American energy supply."

Democrats in the House of Representatives are gearing up for their own summer push on energy issues, where ethanol-boosting will feature prominently.

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi sent letters to party members asking them to hold at least one event in their home districts over the Memorial Day holiday recess at the end of this month to discuss high energy prices, according to a letter obtained by Reuters.

"Democrats want to invest in the Midwest, not the Middle East," according to one of the talking points listed in the letter, referring to the region's corn-growing potential.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, head of the House Energy Committee, said Democrats should support legislation pending before the chamber that would streamline permitting of new U.S. refineries.

"If drivers could fill their tanks with Democratic Party politics, everybody would be running on full," Barton said in a statement.

Source: Reuters

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