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Politics

Sweeping energy bill wins House approval

It would stress conservation and renewable fuels. A tax is also added.

By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Washington Post
Published August 5, 2007


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WASHINGTON - The House Saturday passed a far-reaching package of energy legislation that would promote conservation and the use of renewable resources at the expense of the country's oil and gas interests.

The bill, which passed 241-172, would require more energy efficiency in appliances, buildings and power grids, which proponents of the legislation say would reduce carbon dioxide emissions and electricity use. It calls for more energy efficiency measures in the Capitol building. It also would provide grants for studies to promote ethanol pipelines, installation of pumps for 85 percent ethanol fuel at gasoline stations and production of cellulosic ethanol.

The Democrats also won passage of a provision that would require that 15 percent of electricity from private utilities come from solar, wind or other renewable energy sources.

The House last night also passed, 221-189, a companion tax package, totaling nearly $16-billion, that targets the oil and gas industry. In a letter to Congress, however, the Bush administration said Friday that the two House measures would result in less domestic oil and gas production. The letter said President Bush's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bills.

Since taking control of Congress last year, the Democrats have identified the reordering of the nation's energy priorities as an important goal that would position their party as the principal advocates for environmentally friendly policies.

"This is the historic break with the fossil-fuel past and the beginning of the solar-wind renewable era in the United States," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. "People will look back at this as the turning point where Congress began to embrace renewable energy."

However, the energy bill omitted several proposals, including other mandates for renewable energy, incentives for coal-to-liquid production and a tougher fuel-economy standard for vehicles contained in a Senate package that was passed in June. They could be taken up later this year, when the House and Senate reconcile their energy bills, or in a possible bill on global warming.

"There are many things that will put the strength of the federal government behind energy conservation and renewable energy," Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said of the House legislation. "This bill is some of the low-hanging fruit - the issues that we can agree upon across regions. This is a warm-up for us to tackle those tougher issues."

Republicans pilloried the bill for ignoring ways to boost the nation's traditional energy supplies - labeling it the Democrats' "energy scarcity bill." Republicans challenged Democrats for doing nothing to promote nuclear power, coal-to-liquid plants or new oil offshore drilling in federal waters.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., launched a drive for a new energy bill in January, but Democrats struggled over key issues. The byproduct of 10 committees, the bill nearly unraveled.

Pelosi has had to mollify members from oil- and gas-producing districts by changing provisions on oil royalties and permitting. Democrats also had to contend with opposition to the renewable electricity mandate by lawmakers from Southern states, where officials say they lack the wind or hydropower resources to meet those standards.

The House bill left out vehicle fuel economy increases included in the Senate bill, in the face of heavy opposition from auto lobbyists, the United Auto Workers and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.

Dingell, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, wants to make auto fuel usage part of a broad climate change bill later in the year.

Fast Facts:

Energy differences

Here is a comparison of highlights in the energy legislation passed Saturday by the House and the bill approved by the Senate in June. The two will have to be merged.

Taxes: House calls for $16-billion in new taxes on oil companies over 10 years by removing several of the industry's tax breaks. Senate bill has no tax provisions.

Renewable energy: House calls for incentives to build biomass factories and for research into cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel. Senate has similar provisions. House requires electric utilities to produce 15 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources. Senate has no such requirement.

Automobile fuel economy: House bill has nothing on automobile fuel economy. Senate bill increases auto mileage requirement to 35 mpg by 2020 for cars, SUVs and small trucks, about a 40 percent increase.

Ethanol: House bill has no mandate on ethanol use as a replacement for gasoline. Senate requires a sevenfold increase to 36-billion gallons a year by 2022.

How they voted

- The House voted 241-172 to approve a bill aimed at boosting energy efficiency.

Voting yes was Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

Voting no were Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota; Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville; Adam Putnam, R-Bartow; and C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.

- The House also voted 221-189 to approve $16-billion in taxes on oil companies.

Voting yes was Castor.

Voting no were Buchanan, Bilirakis, Brown-Waite, Putnam and Young.

[Last modified August 5, 2007, 01:53:03]


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