Millions of electric-powered vehicles that would slash America's dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon emissions would be put on the road under legislation approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday.
The legislation, passed 19-4 in favor, was one of several bills cleared by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that might be folded into a broader energy and climate bill Democrats are struggling to bring to the Senate floor.
The bill approved by the committee would pour nearly $3.9 billion over 10 years into selected communities to build infrastructure to charge electric cars, conduct research and provide incentives for consumers to buy plug-in vehicles.
The goal is to put the United States on a path to electrify half the country's cars and trucks by 2030, which would cut U.S. demand for oil by about one-third.
"Passing this legislation will strengthen our national security and improve the air we breathe, while relying on our abundant and diverse electricity supply to fuel our cars," said Senator Byron Dorgan, the bill's chief sponsor.
A new bill that addresses climate change and renewable energy is a key priority for the Obama administration but time is running short on the congressional calendar with a scheduled August recess and congressional elections looming in November.
Senator Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the energy panel, said he was not sure if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would unveil his encompassing energy and climate legislation next week. The bill would be in trouble if the Senate does not pass it before the August break, according to Bingaman.
"It will be difficult to get a final bill to the president for signature," Bingaman told reporters. "The earlier that the full Senate would act the better position we'll be to actually get a bill to the president."
Congress is scheduled to work through the first or second of week of August, and then recess until after Labor Day in early September.
Reid said on Tuesday he was still grappling for consensus among Democrats to forge a new climate and energy bill.