White House casts doubt on bill's fate

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The White House found a lot to dislike yesterday about the first big energy bill to come before the Democratic-controlled Congress, complicating passage of the measure.

The administration complained that the bill being debated in the Senate "does nothing" to promote domestic production of oil and natural gas, a criticism echoed by a number of Republican senators.


The White House threatened a veto if the bill includes a provision that would make gasoline price-gouging a federal offense.

The administration also criticized a provision that would boost vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, reiterating a long-standing position that miles-per-gallon rules "should not be set arbitrarily by statute," but it stopped short of threatening a veto over that provision.


The administration also expressed opposition to an effort, expected as early as today, to add a requirement to the bill that utilities generate 15 percent of their electricity from alternative sources, such as solar and wind power, by 2020. The White House contends that the requirement would "result in higher electricity costs for consumers in areas where renewable resources are less available and could place new strains on electricity reliability needs."

Republican Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho called the measure a "green energy bill" and added, "To get my vote, it's going to have to have some production."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also complained that the bill "won't do a single, solitary thing to lower gas prices."

The extensive criticism of the bill - environmentalists dislike some of the provisions, too - underscore the difficulty Democrats face in getting a bill to the president that he will sign.

But Democrats are hoping lawmakers from both parties will respond to public pressure to do something about high gas prices and global warming. They noted that the 2005 energy bill, passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by Bush, already included a number of measures aimed at spurring new drilling.

Energy legislation highlights

Requires automakers to increase fuel economy of new vehicles to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and 4 percent annual increase after that, from the current requirements of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and small trucks.

Requires use of ethanol, as a substitute for gasoline, to increase fivefold to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022. Ethanol would be produced from corn and cellulosic sources such as prairie grass and wood chips.


Provides price-gouging provisions that make it unlawful to charge an "unconscionably excessive" price for oil products, including gasoline, and give new federal authority to investigate oil industry market manipulation.

Requires new appliance and lighting efficiency standards and requires the federal government to accelerate use of more efficient lighting in public buildings.

Authorizes grants, loan guarantees and other assistance to promote research into fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids, advanced diesel and battery technologies.

Accelerates development of large-scale demonstrations of carbon dioxide capture and geological storage from coal-burning power plants.

[Associated Press]