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New Life for Energy Legislation

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RISMEDIA, Dec. 4, 2007-The framework for a November 30 deal between Congressional leaders offers new hope for the passage of energy legislation. However differences on some key issues still remain, and it may yet get derailed in Congress or vetoed by President Bush.

Driving the agreement are a number of factors including rising oil prices, more visibility provided to the issue by President Bush and some of the presidential candidates, and growing voter dissatisfaction with Congress’s inability to resolve many important policy issues. Passage of an energy bill would be a good thing for homeowners facing dramatic home energy cost increases on top of gas price increases.

President Bush supports proposals to encourage development of renewable fuels and higher fuel-efficiency, or CAFE standards for cars and light trucks. In early November Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) proposed a plan that would reduce dependence on foreign oil by using energy more efficiently, boosting funding for research into alternative energy technologies and creating a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Among other features, the plan would raise fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030 and also “provide $20 billion in green vehicle bonds to help domestic automakers retool their older plants to manufacture the new, more efficient cars and trucks.” The plan would also create a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, funded by repealing oil company tax breaks.

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards has been very visible in the energy policy debate as well. Friends of the Earth Action, the advocacy arm of Friends of the Earth, recently endorsed his candidacy and credited him with acting early to offer proposals to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, substantially expand investment in clean, renewable energy research, and work for a global climate change treaty. Some of the other Democratic and Republican candidates have also made specific proposals to address the nation’s energy challenges. Former Vice President Al Gore, who recently received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the environment and was honored at the White House along with other prize winners, is also drawing more attention to the issue.

All of this is adding pressure on Congress to act. One contentious point has been proposed higher fuel-efficiency, or CAFE standards for cars and light trucks. The tentative agreement would include the new higher CAFE standards in the Senate passed legislation, but would include concessions to soften the impact on the US auto industry. These include more modest CAFE increases for light trucks, credit against federal mileage targets for flexible fuel vehicles, and protections for auto plant jobs.

Ethanol provisions have also been controversial. Some Democrats and farm groups wanted to mandate a fivefold increase in ethanol use by 2022, other Democrats and environmental and food-industry groups fear that could drive up food corn prices, do more harm than good to the environment by expanding the amount of land devoted to biofuel production, and drive up the budget deficit through expanded ethanol subsidies. The agreement would include ethanol mandates for refineries and, beginning in 2013, increased amounts of other fuel stocks.

A provision requiring utilities to generate 15% of their electricity from wind and other renewables was included, despite some opposition from legislators who fear it will drive consumer energy prices even higher. It is unclear whether a provision to raise taxes on oil companies by $15 billion over 10 years was included. It too had substantial opposition from those who fear it will also increase energy prices.

If final details can be worked out Democratic leaders will bring the legislation to the House floor the first week of December. Even if snags between the Senate and the House cannot be resolved, or if the President is unwilling to support the final package, it will represent substantial progress on the issue and could set the stage for resolution of this issue fairly early in 2008.

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, www.AmericanHomeowners.org

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