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Bipartisan energy effort goes sacred cow tipping

By WES ALLISON
Published March 15, 2007


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WASHINGTON - Sen. Byron Dorgan, liberal, and Sen. Larry Craig, conservative, lined up several sacred cows from the uneven story of American energy policy on Wednesday, then poked each of them in the eye.

Offshore drilling for gas and oil: allow it just 45 miles off Florida's west coast.

Fuel-efficiency standards: Raise them by 4 percent a year. Then, for the first time, require efficiency standards for medium- and heavy trucks.

The Cuba embargo: The Chinese are working with the Cuban government to tap oil and gas reserves between Havana and Florida. American oil companies should be there, too.

"Timing is everything, and the time is now, it seems to me, to begin addressing these security issues," Dorgan, D-N.D., said as he flipped through charts showing, among other things, that U.S. oil use will jump from 21-billion barrels a day to 29-billion barrels in 10 years.

"The security of our economy, the security of our country, depends on us doing better."

He and Craig had called the news conference to formally introduce the Secure America's Future Energy Act of 2007, a broad overhaul designed to increase fuel production and decrease use.

The bill was based largely on the recommendations of the Energy Security Leadership Council, led by Frederick W. Smith, the chairman and CEO of FedEx Corp., and retired Gen. P.X. Kelley, a former Marine Corps commandant and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Members - several of whom joined Craig and Dorgan Wednesday - include former generals and admirals and the current chiefs of UPS, Southwest Airlines, Waste Management, Dow Chemical, Royal Caribbean International and others.

They worry the U.S. government has done little to protect the economy from volatile energy policies.

Craig, an Idaho Republican who under normal circumstances is a natural predator of Dorgan's pet issues, said Congress must bring consistency and realism to U.S. energy policy.

America wants more domestic sources of energy, but most of the outer continental shelf remains off-limits. And other countries are preparing to drill off Cuba, closer to Florida than American drillers could ever get.

America wants more energy efficiency, but the federal standard for passenger cars today is the same as in 1990.

"I believe it is my responsibility to point out these anomalies," Craig said.

Craig, who is not that popular with environmentalists, admitted it's tough for him to back fuel efficiency standards.

But it's time politicians abandoned their comfort zones for a better energy policy, he said.

"This nation cannot stand another five or 10 years of raw partisan fighting on this issue," Craig said.

Yet as he and Dorgan spoke, Mel Martinez, R-Fla., the first Cuban-American senator, was responding with a bill to block any canoodling with Cuba for the sake of drilling.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has reiterated his commitment to the deal struck for Florida last year that will keep drilling 125 miles off the Panhandle and 234 miles off Tampa Bay through 2022.

And while support for boosting fuel efficiency standards is growing in Congress, advocates acknowledged the auto industry's allies will fight back.

"We understand the reality of the opposition," Dorgan said as the news conference broke up. "But if one is going to wait for all opposition to vanish on all issues, then this Congress can take a 10- or 15-year nap."

Staff writer Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or 202 463-0577.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 02:21:06]


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