WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leaders announced Tuesday that they would postpone action on new energy legislation until next year, delivering a major blow to one of President Bush's top domestic initiatives.
Their decision diminishes the prospects for several provisions of Bush's plan, including opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies and providing the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries with about $30 billion in tax breaks and subsidies. At the same time, it extends the issue into an election year, giving Democrats less incentive to reach compromise and more incentive to use the debate to highlight differences between Democratic and Republican approaches to energy policy.
Senate Democrats are pushing for a bill that, unlike Bush's, tilts more toward conservation than energy production, does not permit drilling in the Arctic refuge and calls for higher miles-per-gallon standards for sport-utility vehicles.
In August, the House passed an energy bill that closely resembled Bush's vision; reconciling the House and Senate plans may now prove difficult.
GOP lawmakers were furious Tuesday about the delay, contending that energy policy was an issue of national security, made more imperative by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the recent rise in tensions between the United States and Iraq.
"Next year is not soon enough for energy," argued Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, perhaps the Senate's most dogged advocate for drilling in the Arctic refuge.
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