MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
A bipartisan group of senators hopes to break the congressional impasse on energy issues wi th new legislat i o n t h a t w o u l d a t t emp t t o move consumers from petroleum-based fuels while increasing domestic energy production. "We hope very much that this provides an example to our colleagues of the kind of bipartisan compromise that is necessary to get a resolution that is very important to the country," said North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat who led the talks with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. The proposal, which supporters will try to move as legislation on the Senate floor, would approve $20 billion over 10 years to shift vehicles to non-petroleumbased fuels, encourage conservation and increase offshore drilling. In recent months, members of the two parties have been at loggerheads on the issue. Republicans have been pressing to allow oil exploration in areas that are off limits, including the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, while Democratic leaders have blocked that drilling. "This failure by Congress to act can no longer stand as consumers continue to experience record fuel prices," said Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who also helped negotiate the deal. The senators are proposing: Converting 85 percent of the country's new motor vehicles to non-petroleum based fuels in the next 20 years. The proposal includes money for automakers and consumer tax credits to accelerate that goal; Extending tax incentives, including the wind production tax credit, for four years; Expanding transmission capacity; New consumer tax credits of up to $2,500 to buy fuel efficient vehicles; Grants and loan guarantees for the development of coal-to-liquid fuel plants. The bill also would allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico if some of the states involved allow it. That would include a 50-mile buffer zone where new production would not be allowed. Many of the ideas are not new, but the senators said they attempted to carefully craft a package that would attract enough senators to overcome any objections on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gave the idea preliminary praise Aug. 1. "This proposal includes some very good ideas to address our country's many energy-related challenges, and while I do not agree with every part of it, I very much appreciate the bipartisan spirit in which it was constructed," he said. "I am hopeful this plan can begin to break the current legislative stalemate on the Senate floor."