Interesting verbal fireworks this morning as the House Energy and Commerce Committee began deliberations on its chairman Joe Barton’s (R-TX)’s proposed legislation, which ostensibly is aimed at improving refinery capacity. (Please get in touch if you need more on this bill, which would dramatically weaken the Clean Air Act.)
In response to charges by committee Democrats that the legislation would use the recent hurricanes as an excuse to gut health and environmental protections – and that Barton had bypassed normal committee procedures to rush the legislation through without a hearing – Barton conceded that the latter accusations were “understandable, justified.”
But Barton blamed the House Republican leadership for forcing his hand. (Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) apparently wants the entire Congress to vote on new post-Katrina energy legislation before the congressional Columbus Day break. It appears that the leadership is working with the White House on this.) He told the committee that the alternative would have been legislation that went directly to the House floor without any committee consideration. It was an extraordinary public admission, though it did little to defuse the partisan atmosphere or the feeling among Democrats that they were being rolled.
In the haste to produce legislation, Barton’s staff pretty obviously cobbled together provisions drafted by various energy industry special interests. Few of those interests have been quite as cheeky as the gas station lobby, which reported to its members last week – and actually put this on the Internet – that it was helping Barton’s staff write the legislation. See details at the bottom of this note.
There were several noteworthy dynamics in the politically charged atmosphere of the committee this morning: the panel’s Republican members, who normally are most loquacious, were generally silent or even absent from the room except for a vote. Perhaps they were embarrassed about the bill’s excesses, or – more likely – didn’t want to be caught uttering pro-oil industry comments. And the committee’s Democrats – often divided when more conservative members side with the other party on votes – stuck together on the first big committee vote – a Democratic substitute. The Democrats failed 22-27 on a straight party line vote, as Republican members glumly seeped into the room to cast their votes.
When things are this partisan, you know there’s trouble ahead.
Here is a note from the weekly 9/22/05 weekly report of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America:
PROPOSED ENERGY BILLSPost-Hurricane Katrina legislative actions are coming to a head next week on Capitol Hill. It is expected that two draft energy bills will be released sometime next week. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, have been working on their respective committees’ bills set to address key energy issues. Both bills are expected to contain provisions on domestic refining capacity, boutique fuels, and price gouging allegations. The Energy and Commerce Committee may be poised to move their version through the House of Representatives next week. SIGMA counsel is working closely with Congressional staff to ensure the proposed bills are productive and constructive and not ill-considered. Details on the bills should be available next week. SIGMA will keep you up-to-date on any new developments.