By Colleen Luccioli

A handful of targeted energy policy bills were easily approved in House and Senate committees Wednesday.

Nuclear safety and EPCA: The House Energy and Commerce Committee met to mark up a slew of bills, including two concerning energy policy. Both passed the panel by a voice vote.

The first, H.R. 723, was introduced by Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). The bill holds non-profit institutions, such as the University of California, which operates several Energy Department laboratories, liable for violating nuclear safety regulations.

UC and other non-profits that DOE contracts out to are not subject to civil penalties for nuclear safety violations. Government Accounting Office testimony from 1999 indicated the need to eliminate the exceptions.

The second bill, H.R. 724, introduced by Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.), makes technical corrections to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

EPCA was reauthorized by Congress last year but a technical error included in the final version does not provide authorization for appropriations through 2003, as was intended. Bass' bill correct the mistake.

Small business assistance: The Senate Small Business Committee also met Wednesday and approved a bill to help small businesses hurt financially by rising energy costs.

S. 295, introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), is designed to allow small companies to "provide emergency relief to small businesses affected by significant increases in the prices of heating oil, natural gas, propane and kerosene."

The bill was modified during the markup with an amendment in the nature of a substitute. The amendment "extends the program to include farmers," a committee aide said.