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  Senator Could Play a Smarter Hand on Energy
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Last EditedRP  Mar 20, 2006 06:45pm
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MediaNewspaper - Los Angeles Times
News DateMonday, March 20, 2006 12:00:00 AM UTC0:0
DescriptionRather than trying to block all offshore leasing, opponents should insist that more drilling occur only as part of a comprehensive energy plan. One element of such a plan would be tight environmental protections and careful limits on the areas opened for lease. Equally important would be commitments from drilling advocates to couple any new production with serious measures to reduce demand.

That's where Bingaman has played such a questionable hand. Last year, White House officials and congressional Republicans agreed to strip from the final version of an energy bill a measure that Bingaman had steered through the Senate requiring utilities to generate 10% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020. Last week, the Senate, on a nearly party line vote, rejected a Bingaman proposal to pump $5.3 billion more into federal spending on conservation and renewable energy. Domenici and every Energy Committee Republican voted against Bingaman.

And yet, on the Florida bill, Bingaman is providing critical bipartisan cover for the same GOP legislators who derailed his ideas.

The problem is that this Congress isn't likely to pass any "free-standing provision" promoting conservation, efficiency or alternative energy. Those priorities, essential to any long-term energy strategy, can advance only if Republicans see them as the price of increasing domestic energy production.

Greater offshore drilling would make sense in a grand bargain on energy that includes tougher fuel economy standards for vehicles and much greater support for renewable energy. But that bargain will never come if Democrats such as Bingaman give Republicans and the energy industry what they want without demanding anything in return.
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