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House passes energy bill that boosts alternative energy use

The House passed a new energy bill that will provide more research on alternative fuels and increase energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings.

The measure, which passed by a vote of 241-172 during a Saturday session (Aug. 4), has drawn the wrath of Republicans – and a veto threat from the White House – because it does not encourage more domestic oil and gas production.

The latter earned it the nickname of the “no-energy” bill from Republican House members upset that the Democratic leadership rolled back about $16 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry that the then-Republican-controlled Congress enacted in 2005.

House Democrats wanted to increase vehicle fuel efficiency standards, but decided to defer consideration until later “in the interest of promoting passage of a consensus energy bill,” said Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“It’s a big, big deal,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., one of the co-sponsors of the fuel efficiency amendments. “There has been no energy legislation like this for a generation.”

The bill, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made one of her top legislative priorities, allocates funds for research on alternative fuels such as solar and wind power and will require utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from those sources.

Only investor-owned utilities will fall under the requirement, and they can meet part of the requirement through conservation measures, according to the bill’s authors. The measure also provides increased funding for research on methods of capturing carbon dioxide emissions that may be responsible for global warming.

“I think this is a great victory for the planet,” said Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., author of the renewable electricity standard amendment that will require the use of wind, solar and geothermal power for generating electricity.

Utility company spokesmen said the measure would bring rate increases to electricity consumers because power generation with wind and solar systems currently is more expensive than with fossil fuels.

Similar complaints were voiced by oil company executives who claimed the bill’s provisions would slow and reduce well completions, delay new oil and natural gas production and raise energy prices.

The bill differs in several respects from a bill the Senate passed in June. The latter, which is sometimes referred to as the corporate average fuel economy or CAFÉ standard, requires cars and light trucks sold by 2020 to have a combined average mileage of 35 miles per gallon.

The Senate bill would also increase the 7.5-billion-gallon renewable fuel standard to 36 billion gallons by 2022 and require the adoption of a number of conservation measures aimed at reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

Of those 36 billion gallons, 21 billion gallons are to be derived from advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, which can be developed from grasses native to much of the central and eastern United States.

The Senate legislation could have gone further to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil energy, but a group of senators blocked a vote on its package of incentives to spur the production of more renewable fuels such as wind power and advanced biofuels.

The National Corn Growers Association announced its support for the Senate energy bill, following the June 21 vote. “The Senate bill supports NCGA’s plan for rational ethanol growth,” said NCGA First Vice President Ron Litterer. “We have long supported a vision of producing 15 billion bushels of corn, which would allow for the production of 15 billion gallons of ethanol while continuing to satisfy our other markets. We think this can happen by 2015.”

Both the Senate and House bills also mandate studies on the feasibility of ethanol pipelines, higher blend levels and the optimization of flex fuel vehicles and establishes a goal of increasing the nation’s flexible fuel vehicle fleet by 50 percent.

But House Republicans were extremely upset by the House bill’s treatment of the incentives provided for oil and natural gas exploration, a move they said would impose a $16-billion tax increase on the oil and natural gas industry.

“It tells us to turn the lights out, that’s what this bill does,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. “There is no energy in this bill at all.”

“This is really an exercise in sterile futility,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who was referring to a White House statement that President Bush would probably veto a bill that includes the House provisions. “This bill isn’t going anywhere.”

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