Votes on energy-related bills in the House, originally scheduled for this week, may now be held later this month. That postponement, due to the passing of former President Reagan, has not changed our expectation that “House Energy Week” will mostly be about speeches and press releases, and not really about advancing what Sen. Bingaman believes should be the goal – passing effective, bipartisan legislation to meet America’s important energy challenges. But that was last week’s e-mail. Here’s something fresh: Sen. Bingaman has received a response to a letter he sent to the Administration nearly three months ago. In March, he wrote to the President with 13 concrete proposals on how to deal with high natural gas and gasoline prices. They were all actions that the President could take immediately, with no further legislation from Congress. The Administration’s answer (attached) back to Bingaman did not address any of his suggestions for supporting more natural gas production. We see that as a sign that the Administration is not willing to make even modest efforts to boost domestic natural gas production. Instead, it seems to be sticking to its budget plan to cut R&D on unconventional natural gas and do nothing to eliminate the current paperwork backlog that is keeping gas producers from accelerating their efforts to produce new gas in places where it can be developed quickly. The House Appropriations Committee, which marked up this part of the Administration’s budget request last week and this, refused to go along with the Administration’s significant cuts to oil and gas programs (which shows it is more cognizant of the problem of high natural gas prices than the Administration). But the House appropriators were unable to ramp up funding enough to make a major dent in the paperwork backlog problem, at least in part because the Administration did not identify extra resources that appropriators could use, as Bingaman had specifically requested in his March 24 letter. The Administration’s response to Bingaman’s suggestions regarding high prices for gasoline and other key transportation fuels also disappointed. In his letter, Bingaman proposed constructive steps that could be taken at every phase in the production process, from oil exploration through refining to the distribution of finished products. Here, too, the Administration’s response was, well, unresponsive. Bingaman believes a lot more can and should be done to help meet America’s immediate energy challenges. Except for the suggestions involving (1) electricity reliability authority at FERC and (2) a specific reversal, in upcoming appropriations bills, of the President’s funding cuts, none requires new legislation. Most are measures that the Administration can take (and indeed, should have taken long ago). It’s a shame that the Administration has missed so many opportunities over the past three months to take actions that, had they occurred in a timely way (or even at all), might have made a difference in the price that American motorists are now paying at the pump.
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