Partisan Politics Fuel Energy Debate

A new form of alternative energy is being generated in Washington, D.C. these days that is definitely renewable. If only we knew how to harness the large amount of hot air being produced in the U.S. House and Senate from the endless debates about our national energy policy and could convert this into electricity, our national energy woes could be solved immediately.

Caught up in intense legislative bickering for almost two months, many U.S. senators held their noses on April 25, 2002, and voted for the final version of the Senate energy bill because it was better than no bill at all. By a vote of 88 to 11, the U.S. Senate passed the Energy Policy Act of 2002 (S.B. 517), which was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

At press time the next step in this legislative process is for the bill to go to a conference committee to reconcile the Senate bill with the many differences it has with the House's version of the energy bill (H.R. 4), which was sponsored by Rep. W.J. Tauzin (R-La.). In August 2001, the House passed its version of the energy bill, which was backed by the Bush administration. Once the conference committee hammers out a new compromise energy bill, the revised bill then will be submitted for the approval of both the Senate and the House. If the revised energy bill survives that hurdle, it will then be submitted to President Bush for his approval.

Given the strong partisan and regional differences among legislators concerning energy-related issues, it's unclear if the bill will even reach the President's desk in 2002. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D -N.M.), said it was possible the House and Senate would be unable to agree on a final bill. "There's no requirement we have an energy bill this year," he said.

A direct comparison of some key sections of the two versions of the energy bill illustrates the obstacles to reaching a compromise.

Tax breaks: The House version includes $33 billion of tax incentives over 10 years, almost all to encourage the production of new forms of energy. In contrast, the Senate version includes more than $14 billion of tax incentives over 10 years, some to encourage production and some to encourage conservation.

Fuel efficiency: The House version requires the U.S. Department of Transpiration (DOT) to develop regulations to cut by five billion gallons the amount of gasoline used by pickup trucks, SUVs and vans sold between 2004 and 2010. On the other hand, the Senate version orders DOT to study fuel-efficiency requirements and propose new rules by 2004. Pickup trucks would be exempt from new standards.

Renewable fuels: The House version contains no provisions mandating utilities to use any renewable fuels for the generation of electricity. Nor does the House bill contain any provisions related to ethanol use in vehicles. In comparison, the Senate version requires utility companies to gradually increase the percentage of electricity they derive from wind, solar power and other renewable sources until the proportion reaches 10 percent in 2020. Additionally, the Senate bill calls for increasing the use of ethanol from the current 1.5 billion gallons per year to five billion gallons annually by 2012.

Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: The House version permits oil and gas exploration in ANWR and limits the development to a surface area of 2,000 acres. On the flip side, the Senate version has no provisions for drilling in ANWR.

To track the current status of the energy bill, check out the Library of Congress' legislative information Web site at thomas.loc.gov.

According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, a poll conducted after 9/11 found that almost 40 percent of those surveyed said that protecting our national security is the most important reason for a comprehensive energy plan to reduce our reliance on foreign energy. Clearly, Americans don't want to be dependent on Middle Eastern oil anymore. Given the current instability in the Middle East, our elected officials need to rise above partisan wrangling and show real leadership in putting together as soon as possible a viable program for energy independence, based on developing renewable resources, domestic production and energy efficiency.

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This article originally appeared in the June 2002 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 13, No. 6, p. 6.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2002 issue of Environmental Protection.

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