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Energy debate spills into halls of Congress

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That line from a movie (don’t ask me which one; I can never remember) is an apt description of what too often passes for political discourse these days.

Many observers have commented about how ill-tempered sessions of the U.S. House of Representatives have become. Nowhere was this mean-spiritedness more evident than in the debate over a new energy bill the day before Congress began its August recess.

While few subjects could be more important than national energy policy, Democrats and Republicans seem to be talking past each other as they traded barbs over the “New Direction for Independence, National Security and Consumer Protection Act of 2007.”

The Democratic majority pushed through provisions that would require investor-owned utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power. The bill also requires greater energy efficiency in appliances and government buildings.

The House bill does not, as the Senate version, require higher gas mileage ratings for cars and light trucks or provide incentives for increasing ethanol production over the next few years. It does fund new research for capturing carbon emissions from power plants and refineries and training workers in new alternative-energy industries

Any new mandates such as the alternative fuels provisions smacks of big government to Republican House members. But the latter were especially appalled at language that rolled back $16 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry the Republican-controlled Congress enacted in 2005.

Oil industry lobbyists and Republican leaders said the legislation would lead to higher electricity rates and other energy prices without increasing energy supplies, especially of the petroleum variety.

They were also upset about details such as Section 7604, which would ban drilling for natural gas on the Roan Plateau near Grand Junction, Colo., an action that would cost the state $1 billion in lost revenues, one critic said.

The debate reflects a fundamental divide in energy philosophy between those who believe the United States must begin to develop alternative energy supplies and practice conservation and those who think that if we just remove all the government red tape we can have all the petroleum-based energy we want for the next 50 years.

Being former oilmen, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney generally fall into the latter camp and the president threatened to veto the legislation unless some of its more onerous provisions were removed.

Corn and soybean farmers, who once might have sided with the oil barons, have begun to view the debate in the light of petroleum executives balking at selling E-85 at gas stations and the ongoing rhetoric over food vs. fuel.

And farmers and consumers are wondering if the government had been forced to follow through on the alternative energy initiatives of the 1980s, we would be in some of the quagmires of the world where we find ourselves today.


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