Congress Takes Another Run at Passing Bush Energy Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, April 18, 2005 (ENS) - As gasoline prices soared above $2.40 per gallon in some parts of the country, and Congress prepares to debate energy legislation this week, pressure groups are jockeying for attention and influence for their solutions to America's energy problems.

The United States needs to move beyond oil to cleaner energy technologies urged representatives of the national security, labor, ranching, and faith-based communities who today held an event at the National Press Club to launch a new campaign to "Re-energize America."

Emphasizing the need to reduce U.S. oil dependence, the speakers expressed concern about how national security, job growth, faith-based stewardship and the Western way of life are affected by energy choices.


Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN, now retired, is here shown addressing troops during the 2000 RIMPAC military exercises. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
"Our continuing reliance on oil and energy technologies of the past is a serious national security challenge that threatens our economy, our health, and our quality of life," said Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret.). "As a nation, we can rise to this challenge now, with clear action and modern technology to move beyond oil from unstable regions of the world." McGinn, now a national security consultant, is vice president for strategic planning at Battelle Science & Technology International.

William Klinefelter, the political director of the United Steelworkers of America, said an energy policy that protects the environment also fosters a healthy economy. "We can create new jobs, bolster our economy and reduce the trade deficit if we just make the investments we need to shift to more efficient and cleaner energy options," he said.

Tweeti Blancett, a rancher from Aztec, New Mexico, spoke about how current policies promote reckless energy development that threatens livelihoods and the quality of life in the American West.

"Northwest New Mexico has been sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed and political buy-offs, and what has happened to us is happening across the West," said Blancett, a sixth-generation rancher who ran the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign in her part of New Mexico.


Tweeti Blancett and her husband Linn are New Mexico ranchers and motel owners who say they are overrun by more than 500 active gas wells, which each take up about three acres of grazing land. (Photo courtesy Coalition for Otero Mesa)
Blancett, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s energy policies, suggested that ranchers like herself should "form an alliance with conservationists, farmers, hunters and fishermen, liberals and conservatives, and Republicans and Democrats to force the government to make sure that the energy industry treats our public lands responsibly."

"Millions of the world’s poor could die in this century because of global warming, said Reverend Jim Ball, PhD., the executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network and creator of the ‘What Would Jesus Drive’ advertising campaign. In his view, making America strong by starting now to transition to more efficient technologies and renewable forms of energy is "the right thing to do."

"It’s time to end our dangerous oil dependence," said Gregory Wetstone, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who moderated today’s panel discussion. "But simply subsidizing old energy sources and drilling our last best places won’t protect our national security, our natural heritage or our planet’s climate."

But drilling in one of those "last, best places" is exactly what some in Congress intend to do.

On Wednesday, the House Resources Committee passed the Domestic Energy Security Act that authorizes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, a California Republican, applauded the 30-13 vote to defeat an amendment that would have prevented oil production in the refuge on Alaska's Coastal Plain.

“At current prices the United States spends nearly $500 billion annually to import energy,” Pombo said. “Today we declared a start to the end of the days of exporting American jobs and money overseas for our energy needs.”


President George W. Bush records a weekly radio address. (Photo by Eric Draper courtesy The White House)
President George W. Bush, too, is talking about America's energy situation. He used his regular Saturday radio address to tell Congress he is watching as lawmakers begin their debate on energy legislation this week.

The President said he wants to see an energy bill that meets "four important objectives." Using more environmentally friendly language than usual, President Bush said the legislation that emerges from Congress "must encourage the use of technology to improve conservation."

Bush called for better choices about energy consumption, and more investment in research to "develop the technologies that would allow us to conserve more and be better stewards of the environment."

"The energy bill must encourage more production at home in environmentally sensitive ways," said Bush.

Reducing U.S. dependence on foreign souces of oil has been a theme of the Bush administration, but the President acknowleged that America is becoming more, not less, dependent on foreign oil.

"Over the past three years, America's energy consumption has increased by about four percent, while our domestic energy production has decreased by about one percent. That means more of our energy is coming from abroad. To meet our energy needs and strengthen our national security we must make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy," the President said.


Power transmission lines in the Denver, Colorado area. (Photo by Al Puente courtesy NREL)
Bush called for more nuclear and clean coal production as he has throughout his presidency, and this time expressed his support for renewable energy sources, encouraging tax incentives for wind and solar development.

"Third, the energy bill must diversify our energy supply by developing alternative sources of energy like ethanol or biodiesel. We need to promote safe, clean nuclear power. And to create more energy choices, Congress should provide tax credits for renewable power sources such as wind, solar, and landfill gas. We must also continue our clean coal technology projects so that we can use the plentiful source of coal in an environmentally friendly way. The bill must also support pollution-free cars and trucks, powered by hydrogen fuel cells instead of gasoline."

"Finally, the energy bill must help us find better, more reliable ways to deliver energy to consumers," Bush said. "In some parts of the country, our transmission lines and pipelines are decades older than the homes and businesses they supply. Many of them are increasingly vulnerable to events that can interrupt and shut down power in entire regions of the country. We must modernize our infrastructure to make America's energy more secure and reliable."

The NRDC is asking its members to oppose the energy bill moving forward in the House of Representatives, saying the bill "would do nothing to improve energy efficiency, save oil or advance clean, renewable energy sources."

The environmental advocacy group objects to the governments subsidies in the billions of dollars to oil, coal and nuclear industries, "even though energy companies are currently making record-breaking profits - and create massive subsidies to log our national forests."

"The bill would even increase the risk of nuclear proliferation and nuclear waste contamination by promoting new development of nuclear power," the NRDC says in an appeal to its members to send messages to Representatives opposing the bill.


H. Sterling Burnett specializes in issues involving environmental policy and gun policy. (Photo courtesy NCPA)
But some right wing representatives approve of the new version of the energy bill passed by the House Resources Committee on Wednesday. The National Center for Policy Analysis' Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett said, "Many of the egregious, market-distorting subsidies are removed or reduced, making it much less expensive and more in line with budget realities."

The bill also could reduce fuel prices over time by improving America's energy infrastructure, said Burnett and by "permitting and expediting new oil and gas exploration and development on public lands."

Burnett approves of the provisions in the bill for streamlining the process for re-licensing and developing new nuclear and hydropower production and its incentives for expanding the nation's electricity grid, which should reduce the chance of blackouts.