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  Senate passes energy bill
Web Extra Friday, June 22, 2007

Senate passes energy bill

Late last evening, the Senate passed the Clean Energy Act of 2007, a bill designed to increase our usage of renewable fuels and to increase the fuel efficiency of automobiles for the first time in 18 years.

The Senate bill, first introduced in January and debated in committees and on the floor for the past six months, passed by a vote of 65 to 27. The bill requires that by 2022 the United States produce 36 billion gallons a year of ethanol for motor vehicle use, and boosts the miles-per-gallon efficiency of entire fleets of new passenger cars and light trucks — called the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards — by 40 percent, to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. For the first time, sport utility vehicles, vans and pickup trucks are included in the CAFE standards. Previously, only passenger cars had been included. The amount of the increase and whether to include vehicles other than passenger cars had been major sticking points in the bill. The United States lags far behind the standards of the European Union, Japan and even China, as the United States has not changed its CAFE standards since 1985 (see Geotimes, June 2007).

The bill also includes wording to improve household appliance and lighting efficiency standards and increase the use of efficient lighting in public buildings — arenas in which the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Summary report suggested immediate energy-saving benefits could be felt (see Geotimes online, Web Extra, May 4, 2007). The bill also gives the federal government authority to investigate oil industry market manipulation, and outlaws "unconscionably excessive" price gouging for oil products.

"This bill starts America on a path toward reducing our reliance on oil," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Dissenters lamented that the bill did not include increased production of domestic oil and gas, which they said is necessary to reduce dependence on foreign supplies. Some senators have called for opening more of the Outer Continental Shelf on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico to oil exploration.

Although the majority of Democrats voted for the bill, four voted against it, notably Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, who sought to protect domestic car companies. Republicans were split on the bill, and forced the removal of a provision that would have established $29 billion in additional taxes on oil companies to pay for new alternative energy subsidies. Republicans also removed wording that would have required utility companies to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind or biomass. Both sides say there is much more to be done in energy legislation.

The House of Representatives has yet to act on its own energy legislation, which was also introduced in January, but is expected to do so soon, perhaps in the next week. This bill now moves to conference review, where members of the House and Senate will try to reach a compromise between their pieces of legislation.

Paul Schramm
Geotimes contributing writer
AGI Government Affairs Intern

Links:
"New standards for fuel economy proposed," Geotimes, June 2007 
"IPCC says mitigation is affordable," Geotimes online, Web Extra, May 4, 2007 
AGI Government Affairs Program

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