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Energy bill a special-interests triumph

Page 6 of 9 -- And he said the jobs would be important to his district.

"This is the only guy knocking on my door willing to spend $2 billion," Walsh said.

But congressional waste-watchers and environmentalists wonder why the federal government should be helping a multimillionaire developer build a shopping mall and resort.

"It's apparent that the only green Bob Congel has ever been interested in is the green in his back pocket," said Chuck Porcari, communications director of the League of Conservation Voters.

When the energy bill stalled in December, Senator Pete Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who heads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, pared it down to make it more palatable to an unconvinced Senate. A newer version, which has not officially replaced the original bill, does not include the greenbonds provision.

But with Schumer's help, DestiNY USA may get another shot at the federal money pie. Schumer and Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat whose home state of Georgia is also vying for a greenbonds project, introduced an amendment to add the projects onto a corporate tax bill with a higher likelihood of gaining congressional approval. A conference committee will begin writing that bill today.

"It's like multiple warheads: Let's try the energy bill, let's try the transportation bill, let's try the appropriations bill. If we fire all these warheads, we'll be able to hit something," said David Williams of the nonpartisan Coalition Against Government Waste.

Fattening the bill

Congel's project wasn't the only one to find a new vehicle for funding, despite the hold-up of the entire bill.

Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who heads the Senate Finance Committee, and whose support for the energy bill was critical because of its tax provisions, wanted $50 million for a simulated rain forest in his corn-country state. Supporters said the project would be educational, but it was deleted before the energy bill went to the House floor.

But Grassley got what he wanted in January, when the project was slipped onto an omnibus spending bill meant to fund federal agency operations for 2004. "Most egregious projects, if they are backed by a powerful politician, have nine lives," Ashdown said.

Backers of the energy bill acknowledged that it was fattened with local projects, but said such inclusions were often needed to cobble together a voting coalition. "That's a function of the legislative process," said Frank Maisano, an energy industry lobbyist with the firm of Brace and Patterson.

And the battle over the energy package surely has a philosophical dimension. Those who support it argue that the nation must produce more of its own energy to wean the country from reliance on foreign oil. Companies must be offered tax credits and subsidies to encourage that production, say industry officials and some lawmakers and analysts, because energy exploration and development are pricey undertakings.   Continued...

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