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Is the Energy Bill Congress's Saviour?

June 21, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

A new Gallup poll indicates that Congress’s approval rating is at 14%. But if the Senate can pass the energy bill they’ve been considering, that number will almost certainly go up.

>"All the right pieces are floating around," said Dave Hamilton, director for global warming and energy projects at the Sierra Club. “This Congress will be judged to a large extent on what happens at this moment.”

The bill would recoup lost taxes from big oil companies, protect consumers from gasoline price gauging, promote energy efficiency in lighting and appliances, require utilities to generate some of their electricity from renewable sources, and raise the standard for fuel efficiency for automobiles. One of the last parts the Senate still needs to vote on is how much to raise the Coporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard. As it stands, the bill would raise the standard for passenger cars and light trucks from 25 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, with a 4% a increase every year for the next decade. There are two amendments to alter this provision that are waiting to be voted on. One from Ted Stevens (R, AK) would strip the 4% requirement from the bill. The other from Carl Levin (D, MI) and Kitt Bond (R, MO) 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 with no further increases required.

It looks like one of these amendments will pass:

>…both Republican and Democratic senators, who have supported the provision [the tougher one included in the bill as it stands], indicated Wednesday they were willing to abandon additional fuel efficiency improvements after 2020 and make other adjustments if that will get the measure approved.
>Republican Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi, Ted Stevens of Alaska and Bob Corker of Tennessee, planned to offer an amendment that would limit the increase to 35 mpg in 2020. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she viewed the 2020 fuel economy target “the heart of the bill” and not the later requirements.

So far the 110th Congress can only claim victories in having increased the minimum wage and remaining on schedule with the appropriations process. Those aren’t things that have a direct impact on most Americans. But the energy bill would — it would save people money by lowering gas prices and increasing fuel economy. Its other effects, accelerating a move towards less dependence on foreign oil, and an increase in the use of renewable energy, would also be popular. It would be a major victory for the 110th Congress, and that is why senators like Diane Feinstein (D, CA) who have publicly supported the tougher fuel economy standards are now willing to compromise on that provision if it means the overall bill will pass. A CBS/ New York Times poll from April shows that Americans overwhelmingly want our energy policy changed:

>"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the energy situation?"

63 percent answered that they disapprove, 27 percent said they approve, and 10 percent are unsure.

The amendments to change the CAFE standards provision will be voted on later today. Work on the bill is likely to be finished tomorrow. A version of the bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives.

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