New House legislation aims to explore renewable sources

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, accompanied by fellow Democratic House members, applaud during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007 to discuss the work of the 110th Congress during their first 100 hours. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

AP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, accompanied by fellow Democratic House members, applaud during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007 to discuss the work of the 110th Congress during their first 100 hours. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The House voted Thursday to roll back billions of dollars in oil industry subsidies in what supporters hailed as a new direction in energy policy toward more renewable fuels. Critics said the action would reduce domestic oil production and increase reliance on imports.

The energy legislation was the last of six high-priority issues that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had pledged to push through during the first 100 hours of Democratic control. The bill passed by a 264-163 vote.

The bill’s prospects are uncertain the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority. The top Republican on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, said the bill was “another pig in the poke” that targets incentives necessary to promote domestic drilling.

The legislation would impose a “conservation fee” on oil and gas taken from deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; scrap nearly $6 billion worth of oil industry tax breaks enacted by Congress in recent years; and seek to recoup royalties lost to the government because of an Interior Department error in leases issued in the late 1990s.

Democrats said the legislation could produce as much as $15 billion in revenue. Most of that money would pay to promote renewable fuels such as solar and wind power, alternative fuels including ethanol and biodiesel and incentives for conservation.

“The oil industry doesn’t need the taxpayers’ help. … There is not an American that goes to a gas pump that doesn’t know that,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Pump prices topped $3 per gallon last year as the oil industry earned record profits.

The bill, Hoyer said, “starts to move our nation in a new direction” on energy policy.

The bill’s opponents accused the Democratic majority of grandstanding and said the legislation was unnecessary.

“We do not need a tax on domestic energy production and development,” said Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., the former House speaker. “Increasing taxes on our nation’s energy industry means one thing – more reliance on foreign oil and gasoline.”

Added Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska: “If you want to do things right, let’s tax foreign oil.”

Young, who had on a bright red shirt, made reference to it when he said, “It’s the color of this bill we’re debating- Communist red.” The legislation “amounts to a taking of private property” by forcing oil companies to renegotiate leases they view as valid contracts, he said.