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Congress Wrestles With Sweeping Energy Reforms

posted on November 21, 2003

Trade ministers ended the week-long talks in Miami a day early, but declared victory anyway. In the end, officials agreed to move forward on a watered-down outline for the free-trade bloc, which the 34 nations hope to formalize by January of 2005.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill this week, the U.S. House of Representatives OK'd the first comprehensive energy bill in a decade. The legislation promises something for everyone, from energy companies to farmers.

House Republicans claim the $31 billion bill provides a blueprint for diversifying U.S. energy sources. But Senate Democrats condemned the GOP-crafted legislation and succeeded in setting up an 11th hour roadblock.


Congress Wrestles With Sweeping Energy Reforms

The major provisions of the 1,400 page bill include:

An estimated 23 billion dollars in tax incentives over a 10-year period -- with 2/3 of the money going to the oil, natural gas and coal industries

More than $5.2 billion in tax credits and other benefits over the next 10 years for developing renewable energy sources -- including tax breaks for corn-based ethanol

Creation of a renewable fuels standard which doubles the minimum use of ethanol and biodiesel to five-billion gallons by the year 2012. Annual production would surpass the three-billion gallon mark by 2005.

Federal standards for high-voltage power lines to lessen the likelihood of cascading power failures, like the one last August, which left 50 million North Americans in the dark.

And a series of initiatives aimed at reducing America's dependence on foreign oil.

The House passed the bill on Tuesday by a margin of 246 to 180. But on Friday, opponents of the legislation blocked the Senate from taking a final vote. Much of the Senate debate was focused on a provision of the bill that would grant producers of MTBE, an additive blamed for ground water pollution, immunity from lawsuits.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois: "MTBE producers know that they are vulnerable to these lawsuits. Well, if you're vulnerable to a lawsuit for wrongdoing, if you've created a problem which endangers thousands of Americans and thousands of communities, where should you turn? Come to Congress. Come to Capitol Hill, Come to Mama."

But Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici of New Mexico who authored much of the bill claimed the MTBE provision was necessary in order to preserve a stipulation important to farm state lawmakers, like Durbin, which would double the use of ethanol.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico: "Whatever has been said by the good Senator from Illinois, all the farmers in his state that produce corn and the other products should know, there is no way to get an ethanol bill of any consequence without addressing the issue of MTBE.

The Bush Administration has voiced its support of the energy bill that passed the House. And while the measure has been criticized for a lack of commitment to renewable energy, the Bush administration claims it is committed to renewable energy and to America's farmers.

Doug Faulkner: "There are so many opportunities coming up, we're kind of at the cusp of an era of a lot of breakthroughs in renewable technology, energy efficiency technologies where farmers could not only grow as they have been, transportation fuels like ethanol, but they could also grow the feedstocks for a biorefinery. People don't realize how much of a reach oil really has in terms of making the products of your everyday life. We think those could be replaced by biofeedstocks."

Tags: alternative energy biofuels Congress energy policy news renewable fuels