Katrina Spurs New Debate on Energy, Offshore Drilling

9-12-05 - Hurricane Katrina has reopened a national debate on energy policy, generating new congressional support for more stringent automobile fuel economy requirements and a fresh push by the oil industry for drilling in areas now off-limits.

Just over a month after President Bush signed into law a massive energy bill, lawmakers are talking about the need for a second one. If it emerges from Congress, it will carry the stamp of Katrina and the vulnerabilities the storm exposed to the nation's energy system.

"Hurricane Katrina exposed the harsh reality that we have been skating on thin ice when it comes to this country's energy concentrations on the Gulf Coast," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and an architect of the energy legislation passed this summer.

Domenici, in an interview and an appearance Sunday on cable TV's C-SPAN channel, also said the Gulf disaster and the skyrocketing gasoline costs it unleashed has made it clear more needs to be done to reduce energy use. That includes requiring automakers to significantly increase the fuel economy of their fleets, he said.

The hurricane was "a serious wake-up call that we have to do something both on the supply side and the conservation side" that before was politically impossible, Domenici said. He added that he is a convert to increasing auto fuel economy standards after first believing it should be left to the marketplace.