Energy Legislation Deplorable


AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This op-ed was published during October 2002 in the Honolulu Advertiser, Wilkes-Barre (PA) Times-Leader, and other newspapers around the country.


America needs more energy efficiency, greater use of clean, domestically produced renewable energy sources, less reliance on fossil fuels, lower pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and investments to cutivate the vast economic potential of new energy technologies. 

Unfortunately, neither of the energy bills passed by the House and the Senate comes close to meeting thse criteria. And the compromise draft, now being negotiated, looks worse. 

For instance, U.S. transportation accounts for 68 percent of all oil consumption. Higher efficiency could save billions of barrels of oil and reduce our dangerous dependence on Middle Eastern oil. But the compromise the conferees have reached could actually increase oil consumption by an estimated 9 billion gallons per year. 

While raising fuel efficiency standards by a laughable token, the bill gives automakers mileage credts for dual-fuel cars that can burn gasoline or ethanol—even though the vast majority of such cars are fueled entirely with gasoline. 

The Senate energy bill calls for modest increases in the proportion of renewable energy that electric utilities sell, a provision known as the “renewable portfolio standard.” The House version, however, contains nothing of the sort, and now some members of the committee are trying to strip the Senate’s renewables provisions from the final text unless it permits oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—a short-sighted proposal thoroughly debated and rejected by the Senate. 

Other striking differences are apparent in how the bills deal with global warming. 

The Senate energy bill offers modest steps to begin dealing with the problem, which poses significant economic and environmental risks to our nation. The Senate’s provisions include…

  • a simple resolution calling for active U.S. involvement in international efforts to address global warming
  • a voluntary inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, and
  • a registry of greenhouse gas reductions.

The inventory would become mandatory if, after five years, 60 percent of U.S. man-made emissions haven’t been registered.

Unfortunately, Republican House members of the conference committee aren’t in a compromising mood. They have continued their ostrich-like approach to the issue by eliminating all global-warming proposals from the negotiated text.

Concerning energy subsidies, the House legislation is bloated with $33.5 billion in tax breaks tilted toward fossil fuel production. The Senate version asks for $14 billion to stimulate energy efficiency and renewable energy. 

In order to pass muster with the White House—whose idea of drafting a national energy policy was to look resolutely backward—chances are good that any tax compromise the conferees reach will include generous handouts for fossil fuel production, but only modest support for efficiency and renewables.

Congressional negotiations continue against a background of the war on terrorism and U.S. intentions to install a new regime in Iraq. Neither Congress nor the Bush administration, however, has taken any meaningful steps to deal with a root cause of our vulnerability to terror and the whims of predator regimes—our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. As former CIA Director James Woolsey said: “Their power derives from their oil.”

Overall, both chambers have failed to give America the conservative energy policy needed to strengthen national security, create economic opportunities, and protect the environment. No bill would be better than the shoddy product coming out of the conference committee. 

Instead of subsidies for industries that have been feeding at the federal trough for dcades and continued reliance on energy sources that repeatedly lead us to foreign and domestic crises, the U.S. should improve efficiency and diversity fuel sources. 

The leadership for this agenda is nowhere in sight. Both the president and Congress have squandered another precious chance to achieve energy security for the nation. They have failed to learn the lessons of history, and they have failed the American people.