Pete Domenici: Center of the Action
During his 33-year career in Washington, Senator Pete V. Domenici has made his mark on dozens of policy issues, but none is likely to be as enduring as his work on energy.
The New Mexico Republican, dubbed St. Pete by scientists at the national labs for his ability to bring home the bacon for the Department of Energy over the years, has spent a career working on one energy-related issue or another.
Whether it is his decades-old pursuit of expanded nuclear power (his book on the subject, A Brighter Tomorrow, was published last year), his leadership on a new national energy policy reform bill this year, or his recent reversal of his initial opposition to a new fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, Domenici's legacy will likely be defined in large part by his work to provide uninterrupted power to an ambitious, active nation. It's not overdoing it to call him"Senator Energy."
As he approaches the mid-point of his sixth term in the Senate, Domenici, 74, is making more energy news than ever. In 2002, when Republicans took back control of the Senate from Democrats, Domenici ascended to the chairman's seat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Ironically, the gavel was passed by Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, a fellow New Mexican, who has also been an energy leader for years.
In addition to his powerful full committee post, Domenici is chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. This position allows Domenici to hold the purse strings for billions of dollars of government programs in the energy realm, including the DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
President Bush, a former oilman who knows Domenici well, has credited him with helping provide the political push needed to get this year's energy bill to his desk.
While many environmentalists and taxpayer watchdogs have denounced the legislation as overly friendly to oil and gas industries and too meek in setting out new goals for clean fuel, the White House has hailed it as a bold first step toward American energy independence.
"Senator Domenici led the effort to pass a comprehensive bill that launched an energy strategy for the 21st century," White House spokeswoman Jeannie Mamo told TechComm. "The president appreciated the senator's hard work to pass legislation that encourages energy efficiency and conservation, promotes alternative and renewable energy sources, reduces our dependence on foreign sources of energy, increases domestic production, modernizes the electricity grid and encourages the expansion of nuclear energy."
Even Democrats hailed Domenici's bipartisan approach to the energy bill's passage this year, noting that he allowed them to offer a full slate of amendments and participate in final House-Senate negotiations, despite the fact that Republicans rule both chambers. Senator Bingaman, the ranking member of the energy commitee, helped to provide the bipartisanship.
Previous efforts to pass a House-Senate bill had failed, in part because of Domenici's refusal to give Democratic leaders a seat at the negotiating table.
"This was a triumph of reason over rancor," said Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, at a press conference shortly after the energy bill passed Congress in July.
If Domenici seeks re-election in 2008—€”and because of his renewed health many congressional observers think he will —€”he would have to relinquish his energy chairman's post because of a Senate rule that allows a person only six consecutive years at the helm of most committees.
But with gasoline and natural gas at record high prices and Congress scrambling to cut demand and create new, clean fuels, expect Domenici to stay right in the center of the energy action until the final day of his sixth term.