Hatch: Natural-gas bill must move ‘if we are interested in this country at all’

The bill includes $3.8 billion in rebates for purchasing natural-gas-powered trucks or converting them, as well hundreds of millions of dollars more in grants and loans for boosting refueling infrastructure and manufacturing alternative-fuel vehicles.

It also contains a suite of provisions to bolster Energy Department programs for accelerating deployment of electric cars into the marketplace.

But lawmakers have been at loggerheads over how to pay for the plan. Reid had initially scheduled a test vote this week on a version of the bill that would raise the per-barrel fee — from eight cents to 21 cents — that oil companies pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

But Reid canceled the vote, which would have fallen short, citing progress in bipartisan talks with Hatch and others.

“He’s working with me on it,” Hatch said. “We just have try and come up with pay-fors that he can live with and that we can live with.”

“We have got to find some sort of pay-for that comes from spending reductions or from some other fund that really hasn’t been utilized, and I think we can, I think we have got to do that,” Hatch added. “[Reid] knows that it can’t be a tax increase. I can’t sell that on our side and I wouldn’t want to anyway.”

The natural-gas trucks plan is inspired by T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oil billionaire who helped sink Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential run by backing the infamous “Swift Boat” campaign.

But more recently, lawmakers from both parties — including Kerry and especially Reid — have embraced Pickens for his work to boost wind power and natural gas. “I think Boone Pickens has worked the Hill pretty well on this,” Hatch said.

Hatch said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows he wants to move the measure in the lame-duck session.

And the Utah senator batted aside the suggestion that the bill should wait until next year, when Republicans will have a stronger hand in the Senate.

“We have got to get started on this now,” Hatch said, “or this country is going to be in real jeopardy.”