Energy Conference Update #19 (Why the Wait?)

October 21, 2003
12:00 AM
Here are the prepared remarks that Sen. Bingaman delivered around 1:45 p.m. today on the Senate floor. His basic theme is that the Democratic conferees and the public need and deserve to see the completed parts of the energy bill conference text -- particularly the ethanol and electricity sections -- as soon as possible. Status of Energy Conference Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D - N.M.) October 20, 2003 “Mr. President, over six weeks ago, the Senate appointed 13 conferees to a conference with the House on H.R. 6, the energy bill. Six of those conferees are Democrats. They were appointed to represent the 49 Senators on the Democratic side of this body. The day after our appointment, there was one meeting of the conference to allow for opening statements. Since then, there has been no opportunity for the Democratic conferees to actually act as conferees. Some of the proposed text for the conference report, which was written without our involvement, has been circulated to us for comment by our staff. But on the most important issues before the conference, that being ethanol and electricity, we have not yet seen even a draft text. “Our concerns about the way this conference has been conducted is not new information to this body. I have conveyed these concerns directly to the Chairman of the Conference. I have been joined publicly in expressing these concerns by other Democratic conferees both Senate conferees and House conferees. “The blackout on information about this conference became even more complete over this past weekend. We understand that there are agreements on most of the issues involved in an energy bill. In fact, the settled energy provisions probably represent well over 500 pages of legislative text. “Mr. President, in an energy bill, the details in legislative text are of great importance. It is important that we be able to review the text thoroughly before we are called into a final conference meeting for a vote on it. Our staff was standing by all weekend in hopes of getting to see the text. We were not able to do so. “I personally can’t think of any valid reason why the hundreds of pages of completed text of this energy conference report cannot be distributed to all conferees immediately. We understand that, in addition to sections on the controversial topics of electricity and ethanol, there are numerous new sections on topics that have not been dealt with in either the House of Senate bills. We need to see those. Other provisions may entail new direct spending that we previously have not been informed of. “I have spoken to the Chairman of the Conference here just in the last few minutes. He’s informed me that the Majority Leader is insisting that this Conference not be concluded until we are given a full text of this bill, until we have at least 24 hours to review that text, and until there is a final Conference meeting at which we can raise objections and offer amendments. I appreciate that courtesy, but this is far short of what I think would be required in an appropriate conference. “Let me say just say that I do believe that the sections that have not yet been released – that being the sections on ethanol and electricity – need to be released at the earliest possible moment, hopefully today. This energy bill is one of the most complex and important pieces of legislation that we will deal with in this Congress. The provisions on ethanol and electricity alone have the potential of significantly hitting consumers in the pocketbook in very at the gas pump and in their monthly electric bill. “It is very important, then to get the provisions out so that we can understand them, debate them, and consider them before we are called upon as conferees to conclude the conference. The right thing to do, right now, would be to make the proposed text of this energy conference report public as soon as possible. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is what the Democratic conferees are asking for. I hope that this is the course of action that is taken by the leadership of the House and Senate at the earliest possible moment.”