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Republican lawmakers hope record-high oil prices and gasoline that’s topping $2 per gallon will be the impetus needed to pass a wide-ranging energy bill that includes eliminating a 70-year-old law restricting mergers and acquisitions in the utility sector. House Republicans put last year’s failed energy bill back on the table Tuesday amid a storm of criticism by Democrats that the wide-ranging measure is a “bonanza for the oil and gas industry” and chips away at consumer protections like the Public Utility Holding Company Act, or PUHCA. PUHCA restrains mergers and acquisitions in the utility sector by barring nonutility companies from buying or having a controlling interest in utility companies. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy Committee, said he expects to conclude panel talks by next week on a bill that would boost domestic oil and natural gas and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers. Barton had wanted the committee to try and pass the measure by the end of this week, but he noted that several lawmakers would be traveling to Rome for Pope John Paul II’s funeral. Notwithstanding, Barton is looking to pass the bill out of committee on April 12. “We’ll stay as late as necessary Tuesday,” he said. Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that Democrats “will be offering a number of amendments to address the shortcomings” of the bill, noting that it is “flawed on many levels.” Dingell said the bill will do little to improve the nation’s energy independence and will “quite simply hurt consumers and cost the taxpayers a bundle.” He also pointed to the PUHCA repeal as a defect in the energy measure, saying it would strip away a law that “protects consumers and investors and does nothing to ensure refunds of unjust and unreasonable overcharges.” The panel of Democrats derided a provision providing a liability waiver for producers of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, a gasoline additive that has been found to foul groundwater. The language would block product liability lawsuits filed after Sept. 5, 2003, and give refiners 10 years to switch from MTBE to other additives. “This is a windfall for Exxon Mobil [Corp.] but an attack on communities all over this country facing contaminated drinking water,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. The Democrats said they would fight to strip the provision out of the bill. MTBE proved to be the deal breaker in trying to pass the energy bill in the Senate last year. Additionally, they criticized Republicans for not including provisions that would improve the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks, which they said would be the most significant way to reduce the nation’s dependence on imported oil. Lawmakers on the panel were due to begin offering amendments to the bill early Wednesday. Meanwhile Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has yet to introduce a Senate version of the energy bill but says he is working with Democrats on the committee to produce a bipartisan bill. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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