WASHINGTON, DC, July 27 -- Senate Republicans Thursday urged their Democratic Party counterparts to begin moving energy reform legislation.
Several House of Representatives committees recently reported energy bills modeled after President George W. Bush's proposals. That legislation is expected to go the floor next week. Senate bills have not advanced beyond the committee stage.
Labor Sec. Elaine Chao met with the Senate Republican Energy Task Force Thursday and urged action soon on a comprehensive energy plan.
Chao said organized labor supports the administration's proposals. She said agriculture and the nation's transportation industry, from trucking to airlines, are feeling the effects of high fuel prices.
"The President's balanced energy plan represents a great opportunity and the promise of thousands of new jobs. It is vital for the nation," she said.
Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) said later that the deterioration in the nation's economy is the direct result of high energy costs.
Murkowski noted that DuPont Chemical Corp. has announced up to 5,500 layoffs, plus 1,300 contract workers, because of business reductions caused directly by high energy costs.
Murkowski said, "Affordable, plentiful, reliable energy provides the basis for our security: our national security, our economic security, and our job security. High energy costs are hurting America's workforce. Aluminum plants all over the Northwest are closing their doors to sell their power, instead of producing a product. We are paying people not to work. That is not how this nation became great. Congress has the power to put people back to work."
Murkowski said opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil and gas development could generate 735,000 jobs nationwide, including 80,000 in California and 50,000 in New York, states being hit by layoffs.
Murkowski and other Republicans, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), urged Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to bring a comprehensive energy bill to the Senate floor soon.
They said Democrats have agreed to begin to consider energy legislation next week in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and to continue the process in September, but they have given no timetable for Senate floor action.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said a national energy plan would benefit agricultural states like Nebraska.
He said, "The low energy supplies and rising energy prices are taking a toll on the day-to-day lives of people. Energy drives our economy's production capacity. As the economy slows down, businesses are losing revenue and people are losing jobs.
"Farm states like Nebraska are hit especially hard by our nation's decreased energy supply. When energy costs rise, the effects on farmers are far-reaching. The price of energy impacts everything from the fertilizer farmers use, to natural gas for irrigation pumps, to propane and electricity for drying crops, to diesel for running tractors and combines."