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Lawmakers trade quips at energy conference

By Juliet Eilperin

What happens when you put three senators and one House member on a panel and ask them about why a clear U.S. climate and energy policy failed to come to fruition this year? You get plenty of recriminations and snappy one-liners.

At Washington Post Live's "Energy is Urgent" conference Thursday, key lawmakers traded barbs on why the nation is still importing most of its oil, falling behind China in terms of renewable energy production and, in general, floundering around when it comes to setting specific energy goals.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and co-authored last year's House climate bill, had a straightforward analysis of why his bill stalled in the Senate: "Their agenda is being held hostage by Kentucky coal and Oklahoma oil."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was quick to shoot back that the audience had "just heard, with all due respect, what is wrong with Washington. We don't need a thousand-page, complex bill with special deals in it in order to make progress on energy." She added for good measure, "We should avoid casting aspersions on individual senators or individual parts of the country."

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) was a bit more diplomatic, but blamed partisan rather than regional divides for the climate bill's failure: "Ed's a good friend so I won't describe his rationale as simple," he said, prompting a round of laughter. Instead, Dorgan pointed fingers at the Senate minority's tendency to "put your foot on the brake as hard as you can and keep it there" when it comes to passing legislation.

All the senators --Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) as well as Collins and Dorgan -- indicated that the best hope for making progress on energy policy would come by passing incremental measures such as a renewable electricity standard and financial incentives for electric vehicles and nuclear power plants.

The recent collapse of climate legislation, Alexander said, "suggests we don't do comprehensive well. But if we go step by step, we can do a lot."

By Juliet Eilperin  | September 23, 2010; 12:11 PM ET
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