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Senate Approves Energy Bill, Must Now Agree With House

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - By a vote of 85-12 the Senate on Tuesday passed its version of the energy bill, setting up another showdown with the House over how the United States should shape its energy future.

Congress has failed to agree on an energy plan three times in the past four years and several major policy disputes must still be resolved - including differences over the cost of the plan, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, renewable energy production, and provisions concerning the fuel additives MTBE and ethanol.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us," said Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican and lead author of the bill.

The Senate bill calls for an estimated $18 billion in energy tax credits and incentives to be spent over 10 years, with a large portion devoted to renewable energy production and energy conservation.

The majority of the $10.6 billion in tax credits included in the House energy bill is aimed at helping the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries and the legislation also calls for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Senate version is silent on Arctic drilling.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate version includes a measure mandating 10 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020.

The Senate also approved $5 billion in incentives to cut energy demand, including tax credits for hybrid vehicles and provisions to encourage greater energy efficiency from appliances and power systems.

The House bill provides only $500 million for similar programs.

ethanol

Minnesota driver fills up his flexible fuel vehicle with E85, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. (Photo courtesy American Lung Association)
Differences also remain over MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, and ethanol.

The Senate wants the ethanol mandate doubled to 8 million gallons – the House approved only five million gallons.

In addition, the House bill grants MTBE manufacturers safe harbor from litigation based on contamination of drinking water supplies, contains language phasing out use of the oxygenate by 2014, and gives MTBE manufacturers $1.75 billion for transition costs.

The Senate legislation bill does not address MTBE and it was dispute over the issue that helped kill the energy bill in 2003.

Twenty states have passed bans on MTBE in gasoline and the additive has contaminated water supplies across the nation.

Critics of the MTBE liability waiver – including the U.S. Conference of Mayors - say manufacturers knew of the toxicity of the chemical and should be liable for cleanup costs that some estimate at $29 billion.

President George W. Bush again called on Congress iron out their differences and send him a final bill before the August recess.

"The American people expect their leaders to work together to help provide economic and energy security," Bush said. " I urge the House and Senate to resolve their differences quickly."

Bush said the legislation would boost the nation’s economy by "addressing the root causes of high energy prices and reducing our dependence on foreign oil."

power plant

In March, Georgia Power Company signed a contract to install scrubbers on one of the nation's largest coal-fired power plants, the Bowen plant in northwest Georgia. (Photo courtesy Georgia Power)
Sierra Club President Carl Pope said the Senate bill "contains a few rays of hope" – notably the renewable energy and efficiency provisions - but overall does little positive for the environment or the nation’s energy future.

The legislation does "virtually nothing to lower our dependence on oil [and] funnels billions of taxpayer dollars to polluting energy industries," Pope said.

Environmentalists criticized a Senate provision that calls for a new federal inventory of the nation’s offshore oil and gas deposits, including areas currently off limits to development.

Opponents of the measure fear it is the first step toward lifting a 22 year ban on offshore drilling in many of the nation’s coastal waters and could harm the environment and the economies of affected coastal states.

"This inventory is not a benign compiling of a grocery list of resources," said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.

An effort led by a bipartisan group of senators from coastal states failed by a vote of 44-52 to strip the language from the bill.

The Senate bill falls short for environmentalists on a number of other fronts, including fuel economy and global warming.

"Requiring Detroit to produce cars and SUVs with better gas mileage is the only thing politicians could have done to help consumers and to cut the nation's huge dependence on Middle East oil," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. ‘The Senate rejected that step, the House didn't even consider it, and President Bush opposes it."

City Hall

The roof of the 12-story Chicago City Hall building has been retrofitted with a 22,000 square-foot rooftop garden. The primary goal of this installation, which was completed in 2001, was to demonstrate that green roofs help to reduce urban air temperature. (Photo by Katrin Scholz-Barth courtesy NREL)
By a 60-38 margin the Senate again rejected a proposal by Arizona Republican John McCain and Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman to force industry to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 2000 levels by 2010.

In October 2003, the Senate rejected the McCain-Lieberman plan by a vote of 55-43.

The Senate instead opted for a resolution of support to slow the pace of emission increases and authorization – but not guaranteed funding – of some $2 billion in incentives and loans to support technology development and voluntary greenhouse gas cuts by industry.

McCain said the Senate would eventually recognize the weight of scientific evidence that tougher action on global warming is merited and vowed to continue pushing his plan.

"We will be back," McCain said. "There will be even more definitive statements by the world scientific community, more manifestations of this terrible calamity that is besetting this great world of ours, and over time we will win. I am very confident of that because we must act."