U.S. Senate to act on energy legislation this month

Tue May 3, 2011 6:08pm EDT

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 * Small nuclear plants, clean development agency in play
 * Reid: news Wednesday on bill to stop Big Oil tax breaks
 By Tom Doggett and Timothy Gardner
 WASHINGTON, May 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate may vote on
bills this month to promote clean energy and small nuclear
reactors, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday.
 Congress and the White House are under pressure to fight
soaring fuel costs, which are cutting into consumer spending
and threatening an economic recovery.
 Reid acknowledged the Senate was "way behind" in dealing
with energy issues and said he wants to bring up for a vote by
the end of May one or several bills from the Senate Energy and
Natural Resources Committee, headed by Senator Jeff Bingaman.
 Bingaman hopes to move several energy bills out of his
committee this month that Reid said could be brought to the
Senate floor by the Memorial Day recess.
 "I don't think we can jam it all together, but I think we
can take them one at a time," Reid told reporters on Capitol
Hill.
 Separately, Reid said he would announce on Wednesday his
plans for bringing to the floor legislation in the
Democratic-controlled Senate to strip billions of dollars in
federal tax breaks from the biggest oil companies.
 It is unclear whether a vote on that legislation could come
this week or next week, Senate aides said. Legislation to kill
Big Oil's tax breaks failed to pass the Senate earlier this
year. However, anger from constituents over high gasoline
prices and oil company profits may win over more senators.
 Republicans who control the House of Representatives have
said they would look at scaling back oil company tax breaks
only as part of a broader tax reform effort.
 One of the bills from Bingaman's committee that Reid could
bring for a vote this month calls for the Energy Department to
develop small nuclear reactors of below 300 megawatts that can
be operated with similar reactors on the same site.
 Such small reactors are cheaper and quicker to build than
the new 1,000-megawatt reactors several utilities are seeking
government permission to construct.
 The legislation seeks to obtain an operating license from
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for small modular reactors by
2021.
 Another bill would boost safety in offshore drilling in
response to last year's BP (BP.L) oil spill. Related bills that
could be brought for a vote this week in the House of
Representatives also call for expanding offshore drilling in
areas where energy exploration has not occurred.
 Bingaman's offshore bill focuses solely on safety,
requiring the best technology available for drilling wells. The
legislation would also impose a special fee on offshore
drillers to pay for more inspectors.
 Bingaman plans a committee vote before Memorial Day on a
bill to create a "Clean Energy Deployment Administration" that
would provide direct loans and loan guarantees to jump-start
clean energy projects.
 The top Republican on the committee, Senator Lisa
Murkowski, voiced support for CEDA at a Tuesday hearing on the
proposed agency. But she said the $10 billion program would
have to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the federal
budget.
 (Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Dale
Hudson)


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