SENATE MOVES AHEAD ON ENERGY PACKAGE

SENATE MOVES AHEAD ON ENERGY PACKAGE

The Senate took a major step toward approving a national energy strategy bill in a key Tuesday morning vote on a stripped-down version of the proposal that failed last year.

Senators voted 90-5 to stop a filibuster against the comprehensive energy plan brought last year by Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., minus its controversial provision authorizing oil and natural gas exploration in a portion of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.The revised bill also does not contain a proposal to raise corporate

average fuel economy standards.

The retooled package, which some lobbyists say could gain Senate approval by the end of this week, proposes to remove obstacles to competition in the wholesale power industry and streamline licensing procedures for the construction of interstate natural gas pipelines.

It also would promote the use of alternative motor fuels in government auto fleets; expand research on nuclear power and coal; improve energy efficiency in public and private sector buildings; and provide financial support for renewable energy demonstration programs.

Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., a proponent of developing Alaskan oil, expects an Alaska drilling amendment to be offered during Senate debate, an aide said. The senator voted to block the filibuster against the stripped-down bill in order to get the Senate moving on the legislation, the aide explained.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, told his colleagues President Bush wants Alaskan oil drilling to be in the final bill because "it's too important to leave out."

But Sen. Johnston said twice this week that a vote to allow energy development in the Alaskan refuge, against strong environmental opposition, can't be won in the Senate.

A lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, commented that Sen. Murkowski, a candidate for re-election, needs to make a strong push on the issue.

But other Alaskan oil proponents know they just don't have the votes, she said. She predicted President Bush will support the comprehensive energy plan even without the Alaska provisions.