The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the much-debated energy bill on Tuesday, laying the groundwork for what promises to be a contentious series of negotiations with the House of Representatives, which passed its own version of the legislation in April.
By a vote of 85-12, the Senate passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which offers some $18 billion in tax breaks, and contains mandates for the expansion of ethanol use in gasoline production and subsidies for energy-efficient technologies.
Unlike the House bill, however, which was passed along party lines, the final version of the Senate bill skirts one of the most contentious energy questions facing legislators and lobbyists: what to do with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
While the House called for oil exploration on the federally protected land, which environmentalists claim as one of the last vestiges of wilderness in North America, the Senate threw out such provisions. For anything in either bill to become law, both chambers must now forge an agreement while working in conference committee, most likely at the end of the summer.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate applauded the bipartisan vote.
In a statement in advance of the June 28 passage of the Senate bill, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life praised amendments tacked on to the legislation calling for a reduction in greenhouse gases.
Bill Wicker, a spokesman for the Democratic minority sitting on the Senate Energy Committee, said that, despite calls from the White House to open up the arctic wilderness to oil and gas drilling, if a compromise is to be reached with the House, the refuge will stay closed to exploration.
"Everyone knows that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a partisan pill," said Wicker.
Language opening it up, he added, is "dead on arrival in the Senate."