Critiques of House energy bill

Most environmental groups applaud, but the legislation's requirement for renewable sources of electricity is one main point of contention.

One way or another, US energy policy affects climate issues. Through government restrictions or subsidies, fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they produce will rise or fall depending on what Washington lawmakers do about energy for power production and transportation.

Before it skedaddled for its August break, the US House "approved $16 billion in taxes on oil companies, while providing billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy and conservation efforts," reports the Associated Press.

"The bill would repeal for oil companies a tax break given in 2004 to help domestic manufacturers compete against foreign companies, and another tax break pertaining to income from foreign oil production. The ... bill also includes an array of loan guarantees, ... grants and tax breaks for alternative energy programs."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who managed to corral fellow Democrats cool to some parts of the bill, called it "a momentous decision on energy and global warming," even though, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, it wasn't a total victory for her.

"Democrats didn't get everything they wanted in the bill – including a big increase in federal fuel economy standards for all cars and trucks. Pelosi supports the proposed increase, but she yanked it from the bill in the face of ... opposition from auto state Democrats."

One contentious issue is a proposal to require that investor-owned utilities generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. As The Washington Post reported:

"Democrats … had to contend with opposition to the renewable electricity mandate by lawmakers from Southern states, where officials say they lack the wind or hydropower resources to meet those standards."

Environmental groups welcome the bill. But traditional producers and distributors of energy warn of adverse economic impact, reports The New York Times.

"Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, called the House vote 'very disappointing' and said it would bring big rate increases to electricity customers."

Still, much of the press comment on the legislation has been relatively positive. "Despite howls from the fossil-fuel industries and their political backers, this new direction is welcome and overdue," The Oregonian newspaper editorialized.

"Nearly half the states, including Oregon, have already imposed renewable energy mandates on electric utilities, so the House bill levels the playing field nationwide. It also includes a grab bag of other environmentally friendly measures such as closing the 'Hummer tax loophole,' extending fringe benefits to bicycle commuters, authorizing a 'carbon audit' of the tax code and funding research on biomass energy."

The Los Angeles Times headlines its editorial on the subject "A possibly historic energy bill." It notes that the Senate's energy bill has a provision for stricter auto and truck fuel-efficiency standards, and that the two chambers must now reconcile their differences before sending a bill to President Bush.

"What happens next depends on the conference committee that will be assigned to reconcile the two bills when Congress reconvenes in September. It could pass what might be the most significant energy legislation ever by including both the House's renewable energy standard and the Senate's fuel economy standard. Or it could strike a blow for the status quo by cutting them."

Interest in passing energy legislation that could reduce greenhouse gases, which most scientists believe cause global warming, is colliding headlong into industry efforts to sow doubt about climate change. "[T]he denial machine is running at full throttle – and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion," reports Newsweek in this week's cover story.

"As a result of the undermining of the science, all the recent talk about addressing climate change has produced little in the way of actual action…. In January, nine leading corporations ... called on Congress to 'enact strong national legislation' to reduce greenhouse gases. But although at least eight bills to require reductions ... have been introduced in Congress, their fate is decidedly murky. The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives decided ... not even to bring to a vote a requirement that automakers improve vehicle mileage...."
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