Energy Efficiency Battles Looms in Congress

By J.R. Pegg
Washington, DC (June 15, 2007)- A Congressional debate over energy took center stage in Washington this week, revealing deep partisan differences over the nation’s energy future as well as splits within the Democratic majority on climate change and fuel economy. The Bush administration pushed plans to assess the dangers of some toxic chemicals, measure factory farm air pollution, and reduce protected habitat for the spotted owl, while federal courts rebuked the White House for a trio of environmental policies.

Debating Energy
Senate Democrats had hoped to make serious progress this week on a broad package of energy bills, but found themselves stymied by Republicans over a proposal to force electric utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy sources by 2020. The provision drew the ire of Republican senators from the Southeast, who argued that their states do not have the renewable resources to meet the standard and will have to pay to comply.
A Republican alternative to allow nuclear and hydroelectric power to count toward the standard was killed by Democrats, but the dispute left the issue in limbo and delayed further action until at least Tuesday.
The hard work on the bill has only just begin. Republicans are expected to push for inclusion of language to boost domestic oil and natural gas production and a debate looms over a $14 billion tax package that will be added to the bill next week. The tax provisions boost support for renwables, paying for the subsidies largely by eliminating oil industry tax breaks.
Democrats are bracing for a fight over fuel economy. The energy bill currently raises standards for cars and trucks to 35 miles per gallon, mpg, by 2020, with four percent annual increases from 2021 to 2030. The increase is the first mandated for automobiles in 30 years, but has drawn fierce opposition from the U.S. auto industry.
Their allies in Congress, notably Michigan’s Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, have authored an alternative plan that lowers the overall fuel economy increase. It would set the mandated increase at 36 mpg standard for cars and 30 mpg for trucks by 2025 and remove the subsequent increases. It also calls on federal officials to take into account when implementing the new standards.
President George W. Bush already has issued a veto threat because of the fuel economy increase and over language to stiffen penalties for oil companies involved in price gouging.
On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, reiterated her pledge to bring up a package of energy bills after the July 4 recess. But House Democrats disagree over climate change, particularly how federal and state governments should regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. Language in a draft bill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee would block California from implementing its own greenhouse gas limits for automobiles and would also prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, from approving state climate regulations.
Committee chair John Dingell of Michigan contends the bill is needed to prevent a patchwork of confusing climate regulations by state and federal agencies, but Pelosi says she will block the measure from consideration by the full House unless the controversial language is removed.
Courts Reject Bush Policies
Federal courts have frequently rejected the Bush administration’s environmental policies and three decisions issued this week continued that trend. On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the administration in a Superfund case, deciding that companies that voluntarily clean up hazardous waste sites can sue the federal government and other potentially responsible parties to recover remediation costs.
For more information, visit Environmental News Service.