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Amid expressions of bipartisan amity, the Senate approved energy legislation Tuesday that would give dealmakers and other non-energy companies long-awaited entr�e into the U.S. power utility sector. Despite the 85-12 vote, however, the legislation faces considerable opposition in conference committee, where lawmakers will attempt to reconcile the Senate bill with a very different House-approved energy bill. Both bills would repeal the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act, which regulates deals involving power utilities. But a host of other issues could yet derail a final bill, foiling PUHCA’s repeal for the third time since 2001. President Bush, who wants PUHCA repealed, has asked for a bill that he can sign by the August congressional recess. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a manager of the Senate bill, said Tuesday’s vote sets “a new policy for the United States with reference to our energy production and energy needs in the future.” He added that “this is the first major bill in a long time that is bipartisan in nature.” But several critical issues divide the two measures, among them the way PUHCA would be repealed. The Senate bill gives increased merger authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to compensate for regulatory oversight that would go the way of PUHCA, while the House bill does not. The issue most likely to stop final energy legislation is a provision of the House bill that would grant product liability protections to makers of the fuel additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, a refining byproduct that has polluted ground water in many states. The issue doomed two previous attempts at energy policy during the current administration. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers say that reaching a compromise between the House and Senate over these and other issues will require some kind of intervention by the White House. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told reporters after Tuesday’s vote that he hoped lawmakers would seek a solution to the MTBE problem among themselves, but he would work with members of both chambers “to reach bipartisan consensus and send a bill to the president’s desk before the August congressional recess.” Domenici, however, said he could not guarantee a compromise bill by August. Congress has not yet scheduled conference-committee meetings for the legislation. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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