Washington, DC (August 4, 2007)- The House passed a wide-ranging energy bill on Saturday that will require most utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power. President Bush has vowed to veto the energy bill because it does nothing to encourage increased domestic production of oil and gas. The Energy Efficiency Through Trees legislation crafted by Rep. Doris O. Matsui was not introduced.
The utilities provision, or the so-called renewable electricity standard amendment, was among the most contested measures in the energy bill. Sponsored by Representative Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, and several others, it will force utilities to make a significant share of their electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, water and other nonfossil fuel sources, although they can meet part of the requirement through conservation measures.
The standard applies only to investor-owned utilities and exempts rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the state of Hawaii from the mandate.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made the bill one of her top legislative priorities for her first year as leader of the House Democrats. “This is just the ambitious first phase in what will be a series of revolutionary actions for energy independence,” Pelosi said. “But it is a very serious first step.”
The bill also allots money for the development of alternative fuels and for increased efficiency of appliances and buildings. It is also meant to spur research on methods to capture the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say are largely responsible for global warming.
The energy measure passed by a vote of 241-172, with 26 Republicans voting in favor and 9 Democrats opposed. And the companion tax package passed by a vote of 221-189.
The House also passed a bill to repeal roughly $16 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry enacted in 2005. Some of the money would be used to pay for the research grants and renewable-fuel projects in the energy bill.
The Senate passed energy legislation in June with numerous differences from the House package. Democrats said if the bill that emerged from conference contained both the renewable electricity standard and the mandate for higher corporate average fuel economy, it would be the most significant energy legislation ever enacted.
The bill the House passed on Saturday sets new requirements for energy efficiency in appliances and government buildings. It also contains billions of dollars in incentives for production of alternative fuels, new research on capturing carbon emissions from refineries and coal-burning power plants and training for workers in the “green” industries of the future.
One of the bill’s goals is that the federal government, the world’s largest single energy consumer, be “carbon neutral” by 2050, meaning that all federal operations, including the Pentagon, would not produce a net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The bill does not specify how the government is to achieve this.
Even if the major provisions of the House bill are enacted into law, consumers will experience few short-term effects, either in higher utility bills, more choices of fuel at the filling station or different vehicles on sale at their local car dealership. Those are longer-term goals.
But Americans will soon light their houses differently. The bill outlaws the sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs by 2012 and requires that all bulbs be 300 times more efficient than today’s ordinary bulbs by 2020.
The White House expressed its opposition to the Democratic energy bills, saying they did not meet their stated goals of reducing oil imports, strengthening national security, lowering energy prices and beginning to address global warming. The White House also said the tax bill unfairly singled out the oil industry.
Republican opponents of the measure echoed the White House position, saying that the package provided no new supplies of energy, would drive up fuel prices and provide billions in what they called “green pork” to support Democrats’ pet environmental projects.
“It tells us to turn the lights out, that’s what this bill does,” said Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska. “There is no energy in this bill at all.” Representative Joe L. Barton, who led the Republican opposition to the package on the House floor on Saturday, said the hours spent debating the bills had been wasted. “This is really an exercise in sterile futility,” Mr. Barton said, referring to the president’s veto threat, “because this bill isn’t going anywhere.”
Critics said the national renewable electricity standard would cause undue economic harm to states without capacity for wind or solar energy. The standard is “essentially an electricity tax” on utilities and their consumers, said Representative Dan Boren, a Democrat from Oklahoma, an oil producing state. “This isn’t a question of whether or not we should encourage states to produce more electricity from renewable sources – we should,” added Representative Gene Green, a Texas Democrat. The question is whether a one-size-fits-all federal mandate is the best way to accomplish this goal.” “It doesn’t do a thing about producing one drop of energy,” said Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican. “It does not get the price down at the pump.” “You don’t increase America’s energy independence by raising taxes on our domestic energy industry,” said Representative Jim McCrery, a Louisiana Republican.
The measure repeals tax breaks and subsidies granted to the oil and gas industry and earmarks those funds for renewable energy and conservation, including $6 billion in tax credit bonds for state and local “green energy projects.” Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat, said the tax bill ends “senseless tax breaks and subsidies for giant oil and gas companies and [makes] needed investments in clean energy and efficiency.”
Proponents said the standard was in fact quite modest and argued that emerging renewable energy sources, particularly biomass, are available to every state in the nation. “There is no state that does not have opportunities for renewable energy,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat. Representative Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, told colleagues the goal is one the nation can easily meet by 2020.
One section of the bill relates to carbon and urban forestry. From the Federal Government Inventory and Management of Greenhouse Gas Emissions section (beginning on page 263):
* Orders the BLM and Forest Service to record the net biological sequestration or emission of greenhouse gases related to human activities and associated with land managed by the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service.
* Orders the Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct studies and identify management strategies to enhance biological sequestration and reduce the negative impacts of global warming on biodiversity, water supplies, forest health, biological sequestration and storage, and related values.
* Orders the Forest Service to conduct a study of the opportunities of urban and wildland-urban interface forestry programs to enhance net biological sequestration of greenhouse gases and achieve other benefits.
New York Times
Environmental News Service
Senate Energy Bill (click on June 27, 2007 text)