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Energy bill blocked in Senate

Frist: 'This will not be the last vote'

From Steve Turnham
CNN Washington Bureau

Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico vows to continue efforts to pass the energy bill Friday. At right is Republican Sen. Craig Thomas of Wyoming.
Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico vows to continue efforts to pass the energy bill Friday. At right is Republican Sen. Craig Thomas of Wyoming.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Opponents of the $31 billion Republican energy bill blocked its passage in the Senate on Friday morning, throwing the future of the President's energy policy -- a main plank of his domestic agenda -- into doubt.

The bill's backers narrowly failed to win the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster led by Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, with six rebel Republicans providing the key votes against cloture.

The final vote was 57-40, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican of Tennessee, said Republicans will keep trying.

"I do want to let colleagues know this will not be the last vote," Frist said. "We are going to keep voting until we pass it and get it to the president's desk."

Backers and opponents of the bill said a provision that would provide protection from lawsuits for firms that make and distribute MTBE, a gasoline additive that has been found to contaminate groundwater, turned opinion against the bill.

"This bill is a full-scale retreat when it comes to environmental protection for America," Schumer said. "To walk away from basic environmental protection in the name of promoting energy is a bad deal for America's future."

Energy Committee Chairman Sen. Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, said the bill's opponents have made future blackouts like the one that hit the Northeast in August more likely.

"The blackouts in America will remain alive and possible because we will have thrown out the window the reliability standards that are in this bill because some want to make the case on an issue like MTBE or the like," Domenici said. "If you like blackouts, then you vote to kill this bill."

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, congratulated the Republicans who joined many Democrats to maintain the filibuster.

"For the moment we've killed it," Kennedy said. "And it's a huge victory for all the environmental community and the American people."

Although the Democrats were chiefly opposed to the MTBE provision, Republicans focused on the spending measures stuffed into the bill.

"You can't claim to be a fiscal conservative and support the profligate spending and corporate welfare in this bill," said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He called the bill a "twelve-hundred-page monstrosity chock full of special-interest giveaways."

A group of farm state Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, reluctantly supported the bill because of a provision that would have doubled domestic production of corn-based ethanol, a high priority for corn farmers. Daschle said he had serious reservations about the bill and its impact on the environment and did not pressure his colleagues to get behind it.

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