There's Energy Left in the Energy Debate
It's the Energizer Bunny bill. It just keeps going and going. After clearing the House of Representatives last weekend, the embattled energy bill is headed toward a conference committee with the Senate. But, laden now with provisions that one chamber or the other, or the White House, or some combination, find objectionable, the energy bill may be going and going and going for some time. Senate Republicans are calling a deal breaker the House measure that would require most utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. The House, meanwhile, failed to muster agreement for the Senate's tough new fuel-efficiency standards for cars. And the White House is threatening to veto the whole thing, particularly because of a new tax on domestic oil producers.
That led Rep. Joe Barton, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, to blister the bill as "an exercise in sterile futility."
If so, it's an exercise that hasn't been exhausted. When the conference committee meets to debate the final version of the bill, most likely in September, Democrats and Republicans from both chambers will have plenty to argue about.
Sen. Pete Domenici, who leads the Republican delegation, is a staunch opponent of the renewable electricity standard, arguing that it unfairly penalizes states without adequate renewable energy resources, like wind. Indeed, public utility commissions from nine southeastern states have written letters to Senate leaders, arguing that the mandate, which fines utilities for failure to meet the renewable standard, would only serve to increase energy prices for consumers.
"It's a situation where you're telling states they have to produce a type of energy many of them simply don't have," says Matt Letourneau, a Domenici spokesman. Domenici has proposed a "clean energy" alternative that would allow states to include power generated from sources like nuclear or coal-to-liquid, where most carbon emissions are captured. But Senate Democrats aren't biting. And they're bolstered by the hearty support of environmental groups. Friends of the Earth hailed the standard as "unprecedented progress in the long fight to solve global warming."
Indeed, Democrats believe they can get a pure renewable standard through the Senate by a filibusterproof 60-vote margin, something they tried and failed to do when they passed the energy bill back in June. The final conference bill very likely will also include a version of the Senate's fuel-efficiency standards, which is favored by Democratic leadership but opposed by the auto industry and its chief House ally, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell, who has jurisdiction over the issue.
Then there's the tax issue. The bill would rewrite tax law affecting domestic oil and gas companies to move some $15 billion from oil and gas companies to fund conservation and renewable energy initiatives. Democrats say it closes a loophole, while Republicans argue that it'll simply hike the price of gasoline still further while giving foreign producers an advantage.
Whatever the case, this is an energy bill generating a whole lot of heat. It will have to pass both chambers again and then go to the president's desk. If he does issue a veto, expect the fight to keep going and going and going.