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Energy Before Immigration

June 17, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Before the Senate can go back to working on immigration, they have to finish debating an energy bill that holds key Democratic proposals for improving energy productivity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Two contentious issues still need to be resolved:

Tougher Fuel Efficiency Standards

The energy bill will raise fuel efficiency standards for automobile manufacturers — it calls for the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger cars and light trucks to be raised from 25 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, with a 4% a increase every year for the next decade. But an amendment supported by a bipartisan group of senators seeks to weaken these proposed standards.

Specifically, the amendment would raise the standard for passenger cars to 36 miles per gallon by 2022 and the standard for trucks to 30 miles per gallon by 2025. The auto industry is lobbying hard for this proposal. Here’s what the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is saying about the matter:

>Although tough, this amendment is better than H.R. 6’s wildly extreme measures, which would require all passenger cars and light trucks to average an unattainable 52 MPG. CAFE standards that extreme would eliminate some of the most popular vehicles on the road today and devastate both consumer choice and the auto industry.

The tougher proposal in the underlying bill comes packaged with some other provisions, which its supporters say would help provide automakers the flexibility they would need to meet them. Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) explained these provisions on the Senate floor last week:

>Under the newly proposed system, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) would have broad discretion to divide vehicles into classes based on their attributes, such as size. So, a small car, in a small car class, is evaluated against other small cars. Not a small car evaluated against a Navigator or a Cadillac. So, class by class evaluations. This requirement would no longer apply to each automaker. This is additional flexibility. Different automakers will meet different standards, depending upon the mix of cars they choose to make.
>From 2011 to 2019, NHTSA must set fuel economy standards that are the maximum feasible, and ratchet these standards up at a reasonable rate.
>And by 2020, the total average must meet the 35 miles per gallon. The total average. Some cars will be below it, and some will be above it. As long as the total average meets the standard. This gives Detroit the flexibility they say they need. And I don’t know why they won’t understand it. This effectively gives the automakers 13 years to get the job done.
And it means that fuel economy will increase across all classes – from the smallest sedans to the largest SUVs. It may be different by the class, but nonetheless it would increase, so that the average fuel economy would be 35 miles per gallon.

Read the whole speech — she explains some other provisions designed to help lawmakers meet the new standards, some of the impacts the new standards would have, and how they relate to the standards that other nations have set.

Renewable Energy Sources For Utilities

An amendment will be voted on this week that would require utilities to generate 15% of their electricity through renewable energy sources by 2020, or else trade renewable energy credits. The amendment has been offered by Jeff Bingaman (D, NM), a long-time proponent of the policy, which is commonly referred to as the renewable portfolio standard.

The amendment is going to be filibustered by Republicans when it comes up for a vote (possibly as early as today). Supporters are going to have to come up with 60 votes to end the filibuster and pass the amendment. A vote last week to table a Republican amendment that would have weakened Bingaman’s amendment by allowing nuclear and coal energy to qualify as renewable sources indicated that they may fall just short of 60 votes. Opposition to the amendment is being lead by President Bush, as well as lobbyists for the oil and electric utility industry:

>"We do oppose such legislation because the practical use of renewables varies greatly depending on what region you are from," said Mike Tyndall, a spokesman for the company.
>For Southern [an electric utility based in Georgia], the 15 percent requirement translates into roughly 6,000 megawatts of power. That would require 6,900 wind turbines, or 200 square miles of lands dedicated to solar power, according to the slides.
>At zero megawatts now, Southern figures it can generate only around 800 megawatts by the bills deadline. Accordingly, it is lobbying very aggressively against the bill, said one utility lobbyist who supports the RPS.

Bingaman’s defense to theses accusations come in the form of a 29-page report from the Energy Information Administration, a “policy-neutral statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy.” The report can be downloaded here, or an overview of its key findings can be viewed here. Senator Bingaman provides an ultra-condensed summation of the report in this press release:

>A key finding: The increased use of renewable energy in a national RPS leads to only slightly higher electricity expenditures (0.5 percent) by 2030 and lower coal and natural gas prices.

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