WASHINGTON -- The House approved a far-reaching energy bill yesterday that would provide billions of dollars in tax incentives for oil, gas, and coal producers and give a boost to corn farmers by requiring a doubling of ethanol use in gasoline.
It would also impose federal reliability rules on operators of high-voltage power lines, to reduce the chance of another cascading blackout like the one that hit the Northeast last summer.
Republicans called the bill farsighted and a key to improving America's energy security by expanding energy choices. But Democrats said the tax breaks amounted to giveaways to oil, gas, and coal businesses that don't need the help.
The House passed the bill, 246 to 180, sending it to the Senate for final approval, probably later this week. Despite the wide margin of victory in the House, the bill could run into snags in the Senate over a provision that would shield the makers of the gasoline additive MTBE from liability lawsuits.
The first overhaul of the nation's energy priorities in a decade, the legislation would provide $23 billion in energy-related tax incentives over 10 years, or nearly three times as much as the White House had said earlier this year that it would accept.
Nevertheless, President Bush hailed the House action. "I commend the House for its vote today and urge the Senate to act expeditiously as well," said a statement Bush issued from London, where he was on a three-day state visit.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill's total cost at $32 billion over 10 years, and some private tax advocacy groups put the cost at more than twice that.
"This bill was written in secret and kept from the light of day," complained Representative John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan. "And, like lifting the lid of a garbage can, you get a strong smell."