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Soft vs. hard energy path: the political lines harden

House was set to pass a bill Thursday that supporters say will boost supplies, but critics worry about smog and ANWR.

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There's nothing like paying $2.50 per gallon at the gas pump to shift your attention to energy issues. And that may be especially true of politicians faced with grumbling constituents tired of forking out wads of cash to fill 'er up.

In Washington this week, President Bush and lawmakers of both parties are pushing their energy agendas. Mr. Bush, who began developing his still-languishing energy strategy shortly after he took office in 2001, prodded Congress to "get a bill to my desk before the summer recess."

The measure debated before the full House of Representatives Wednesday and Thursday - with passage expected Thursday afternoon - contains much of what Bush wants. But critics say it's also filled with unnecessary subsidies, over-reliance on nonrenewable resources like oil and coal, and an overall philosophy that even Energy Department economic analysts say won't significantly reduce dependence on foreign oil or affect the price at the pump.

The road to a new comprehensive energy program has been a long, hard slog.

"Traditionally, energy legislation has been contentious, and, in fact, major energy legislation has not been passed since 1992," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said this week in an online White House forum.

The House of Representatives has passed energy bills the past four years, but the measures have stalled in the Senate. One main issue there was drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. With their increased Senate majority after the most recent election, and having attached ANWR to a budget resolution, thereby avoiding a filibuster by Democrats, Republicans are likely to be able to overcome that roadblock this session. And in the House, even Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, says the ability of Republican leaders to enforce party discipline there is "very impressive."

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