Energy Conservation, Renewables Get Boost in Senate Bill

Washington – The Senate has approved an energy bill that has a key focus on reducing energy use and addressing global warming.

The legislation, approved June 21 by a 65-27 vote, concentrates mostly on oil conservation in the transportation sector.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said in a statement that the legislation “starts America on a path toward reducing our reliance on oil by increasing our use of renewables and for the first time in decades significantly improving the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks.”

The bill must be approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president to become law.

The House of Representatives is expected to take action on its own measure the week of June 24. If the two chambers produce differing bills, the two versions would have to be reconciled and voted on again before being sent to the White House.

President Bush said the day the bill passed that Congress must be “realistic” in its attempts to address U.S. energy problems. At the same time, he said the Senate bill falls far short of the “ambitious goal” he set in his January State of the Union address. Bush called for increasing the supply of biofuels and alternative fuels to 132.5 billion liters (35 billion gallons) by 2017 from 20.5 billion liters (5.3 billion gallons) in 2006.  (See related excerpts.)

The Senate bill would ramp up production to the same level but sets 2022 as the target date and would require that half of the new cars manufactured by 2015 be capable of burning a fuel mix containing 85 percent biofuels.

The Senate legislation calls for a 40 percent increase in the automobile fuel economy requirement so that by 2020 a car manufacturer’s fleet would average 15 kilometers per liter (35 miles per gallon).  The current requirement is 11.5 kilometers per liter (27.5 miles per gallon) for cars and 9.5 kilometers per liter (22.2 miles per gallon) for light trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Other provisions aim at more stringent appliance and lighting efficiency standards and offer financial support for research on alternative vehicle technologies and power generation with capture and storage of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas.

The Senate-approved legislation contains provisions the White House is likely to contest. One such provision would make it illegal to charge excessive prices for gasoline.

The president also has urged Congress not to mandate specific fuel economy standards but instead let the Transportation Department regulate those standards based on the size of cars and its own cost-benefit analysis of the changes.

The Senate bill’s scope is narrower than Democratic leaders wanted.  They were unable to overcome objections from Republicans to a proposal that would have required utilities to generate 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Next to transportation, power generation is one of the two major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, which most scientists believe contribute to global warming.

Other measures moving through the Senate would address concern about global warming more directly by imposing caps on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

A proposal to raise taxes on oil and natural gas production to fund incentives for renewables and innovative energy technologies also lost on a procedural vote.  Republicans have objected to it because they believe it would lead to increases in gasoline prices.

A similar tax measure, however, is still alive in the House, where the Ways and Means Committee approved it June 20. That measure eventually may become part of the House bill being discussed by one of the subcommittees under the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The House energy bill focuses on strengthening energy efficiency standards for appliances, improving the electricity grid and increasing incentives for renewables. More controversial provisions such as tougher car fuel economy standards were dropped from the legislation to make its timely passage more likely. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell vowed to revive those provisions in climate change legislation later in the year.

More information about flexible-fuel vehicles is available on the Department of Energy's Web site.

For information on U.S. energy policies, see Climate Change and Clean Energy.