Energy issues generate opposing bills


WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers intensified the struggle to revamp the nation's energy policies yesterday, separately lining up behind two new plans to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

The debate promises to be long and contentious. Since the year began, at least six legislative packages have been placed on the table, all of which have been crafted with the Persian Gulf crisis in mind, and each of which promises to insulate the U.S. economy partly from future political upheavals in the region.

As much as the packages profess similar goals, however, they vary drastically in scope and strategy, reflecting regional and ideological differences among lawmakers.

Yesterday's new arrivals underscored the point. In the House, Republican members unveiled a proposed "Comprehensive Energy Policy Act of 1991" that promised to set "the direction for a balanced approach to environmentally sound and efficient use of energy resources."

In most respects, the plan hews to the outlines of a package announced last month by President Bush that formally set in motion this latest debate over energy policy. As with the administration's proposal, the House Republican plan advances a variety of policies to increase domestic energy production and promote alternative fuels, including nuclear power.

It also, however, adopts a marginally more aggressive strategy to slow the growth of energy demand, including modest tax benefits for developing renewable energy programs and for some conservation measures -- for example, those increasing the energy efficiency of oil-heated homes. Such steps were included in the original energy plan submitted to the White House by the Department of Energy but were rejected by senior administration officials as too costly.

"Our package is comprehensive; it is balanced," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill. "We stress both increased production and conservation."

In the Senate, meanwhile, Democrat Tim Wirth of Colorado unveiled a "National Energy Efficiency and Development Act" that would impose broad requirements on federal and state governments to reduce domestic energy consumption, while mandating stiffer fuel economy standards for automobile manufacturers and leaving protected wildlife areas off-limits to oil development.

The Wirth legislation would also expand federal programs and incentives for developing wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. The bill would additionally create new tax benefits for those who use mass transit or enhance their homes' energy efficiency.

"The courageous leadership that the president displayed during the gulf crisis is just not there on the critical issue of national energy policy," said Mr. Wirth. "Our energy policy must take a balanced approach and be based on long-term planning, reducing demand for imported oil both by using energy more efficiently and by replacing it with domestically produced fuels."

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