WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 17 --The outlook for comprehensive energy legislation grew more muddled Monday as the US Congress focused on pending spending bills that will fund the government during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
House budget committee officials Monday said there are no plans to wrap all 13 appropriations bills into an omnibus bill.
However, due to the short legislative calendar and new national security issues due to major terrorist attacks, some lobbyists say a comprehensive energy bill may be delayed until next year.
Lawmakers, at least publicly, have not abandoned the hope that an extended legislative session may permit passage of a sweeping energy bill.
And Congress certainly is not planning to abandon all energy-related issues before they leave this year. But industry officials wonder if Congress has the desire or focus to devote weeks of debate to a large energy bill.
The House passed a bill in August. The Senate is considering its own proposals.
Some lobbyists think that instead of one large bill, lawmakers may pursue a "piecemeal" approach that targets specific areas of interest. Issues that have bipartisan support, such as expanded research money for traditional and alternative fuels, may be addressed under the mandatory budget process.
Several energy measures already have been attached to spending bills. They include an effort to ban drilling in the Great Lakes region; preventing drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico; and a drilling ban in national monument areas.
Some of these provisions are more symbolic than practical. For example, the Bush administration already had announced it would greatly reduce an eastern Gulf of Mexico sale and that it would not allow drilling in monument areas.
Meanwhile, none of the spending bills are ready to send to President George W. Bush for his signature. That means there is still time for lawmakers to add other energy provisions to bills instead of taking a chance that Congress will be able to pass comprehensive energy legislation later this year.
Among the more controversial items lawmakers may add are allowing the US to lease a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain to oil companies, and boosting fuel efficiency standards for light-duty vehicles.
But some congressional sources caution that it is too soon to judge whether there is enough political support for such tactics.
Both ANWR leasing and fuel efficiency standards are highly controversial, and attempting to add them to a budget bill could damage the bipartisan spirit congressional leaders have maintained since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Also, the influential chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), opposes burdening budget bills with unrelated legislative "riders."