Will Bush Stop Congress from Creating a New Energy Future?

This story is written by by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley.

After six years of rhetorical puffery from President Bush about making the United States "less dependent on foreign oil," the new leadership of the 110th Congress took the initiative last weekend and passed a pair of "far-reaching," forward-looking energy bills that "will increase the use of renewable energy, reduce America's dependence on foreign sources of energy, and decrease global warming pollution." In a rare Saturday session, the House approved the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act, putting the nation on a path toward greater energy independence and security. Congress also passed a companion tax package totaling nearly $16 billion to help transition to a new energy economy. Bush has threatened to veto the bills. In 1986, the United States imported 27 percent of its oil; today, it imports 60 percent. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) heralded the bipartisan legislation as "just the ambitious first phase in what will be a series of revolutionary actions for energy independence." Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said the bill's passage moves America away not only from our "over-dependence on fossil fuels, but from our dependence on fossilized ideas."

RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY: The House energy bill passed an amendment requiring electric suppliers to produce 15 percent of their electricity using renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar, by the year 2020. Requiring cleaner, renewable energy is a necessary and effective response to the urgency of our global warming and energy dependence problems. More than 20 states already have similar standards in place or under development. The federal standard is necessary to drive increased use of renewable energy, and "it would be the first such requirement to apply to all the states." While defenders of the energy industry fought vigorously to deny this important provision, one conservative lawmaker -- Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) -- explained to his colleagues, "We need to set this goal and then strive every day to reach it. And it is not as hard as the opponents would have us believe." In addition to the renewable electricity standard, the House energy bill "includes new efficiency standards for appliances, lighting and buildings as well as tax breaks and subsidies for plug-in hybrid cars." The House bill also included a measure to create new "green collar jobs." The "Green Jobs Act" makes $125 million available for community-based job training programs at a time when the utility industry faces an aging workforce and the booming renewable and energy efficiency industries sees a skills shortage as a looming bottleneck to their growth.

A CLEANER RIDE: The Center for American Progress Action Fund's Clean My Ride campaign has called for requiring cars and light trucks to get 35 miles per gallon by 2020, while also increasing the number of service stations that sell ethanol for flexible fuel cars. The energy bill passed by the House this weekend omits the gas mileage standards, deferring the question to a conference committee with the Senate, which has passed the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, vowed to fight for the fuel efficiency amendment. "As this debate moves to negotiations between the House and Senate over the specifics of the final energy bill," he said, "I look forward to working with all parties to ensure that the final energy bill this Congress sends to the president contains a strong 35 miles per gallon fuel economy standard." Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has said he is confidence that the final bill sent to Bush will contain a significant increase in automobile fuel economy requirements. The House bill does contain tax credits for "installing ethanol pumps at gas stations, support for development of cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel, and funds to study carbon sequestration."

PAYING FOR PROGRESS: The House "approved $16 billion in taxes on oil companies, while providing billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy and conservation efforts." The bill provides incentives for the production of electricity from renewable energy - "including energy derived from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, river currents, ocean tides, landfill gas, and trash combustion resources." One conservative lawmaker, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) bemoaned "the pure venom felt against the oil and gas industry." In reality, the energy bill acknowledges the reality that oil companies have not done their part to pave the path towards a new energy future. Even while the big five oil conglomerates have enjoyed record profits, they have spent only one half of 1 percent of their profit -- $2.5 billion -- on investments in clean alternative energy solutions.


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