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Despite ample public pressure to tackle high gasoline and energy prices, the prospects for the legislation are unclear.
The vote, 65-27, came after more than a week of intense debate that demonstrated deep partisan and regional divides over the nation's energy future, as well as the pervasive lobbying power of electric utilities, auto manufacturers and the oil industry.
The excise tax, they added, aimed to recoup royalties lost on production due to an error by the U. Interior Department under the Clinton administration. Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, dismissed criticism of the package as "political rhetoric that has nothing to do with the facts." The plan is needed to jumpstart an aggressive push toward more renewable energy and help the United States become less dependent on foreign energy sources, said Baucus.
He added that the package "is very balanced, very fair and will not create the horrible results claimed here.
"If automakers were half as good at making efficient cars as they are at fighting new environmental and safety laws, they'd all be enjoying record profits," said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program.
Environmental groups also praised the Senate for rejecting plans to increase production of liquid fuel from coal, but were left disappointed in the area of renewable energy.
Lawmakers declined to even consider the inclusion of a provision to set up a federal greenhouse gas registry, much to the disappointment of Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, who authored an amendment requiring the registry.
"This is an opportunity that the Senate should be willing to put its head up and vote for," Klobuchar told colleagues.
"We say to the EPA: Make sure that whatever these fuels are, they are real good for our people, good for our air, good for our water, good for our land use, and also our long-term ability to produce biomass feedstocks," said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.
Debate over the bill also foreshadowed the difficulty the Senate is likely to have tackling the issue of climate change.
"It is an opportunity to at least get the accurate data so we can start talking about climate change reform.