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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Energy Independence Day

Air Date: Week of

An energy bill before Congress could dramatically shift the U.S. toward efficiency and cleaner fuels. Or, it could do very little to reduce imported oil and global warming pollution. Living on Earth's Washington correspondent Jeff Young tells us it all depends on the long hot summer of energy debate.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

A bill with the potential to make a dramatic shift in U.S. energy policy is making its way through Congress. Democratic leaders say they want to declare “energy independence” by July 4, with a package that supports clean energy and reduces oil imports. But as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, there’s a long hot summer of difficult debate that’s still ahead.

YOUNG: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is taking full advantage of the July 4 symbolism to promote the democrats’ energy legislation. She stood under a portrait of George Washington during a Capitol Hill press conference about what she called energy independence.

PELOSI: Today, in the tradition of our founding fathers and in the interest of our children and our grandchildren we begin a new American revolution.

YOUNG: The package of bills democrats propose would repeal about 16 billion dollars in tax breaks for oil companies and redirect much of it to alternative and renewable sources for electricity and more biofuels for transportation. And while the bills do not regulate greenhouse gas emissions, Pelosi claims the measures would help combat climate change. The measure’s energy efficiency standards alone could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 8 billion tons over the next two decades—that’s about as much as is produced by all the cars on the road today in a year. But Pelosi’s energy revolution is already taking fire from both flanks. Republicans say the proposals would produce little to meet growing energy demands.

SHIMKUS: That’s what this bill was all about--energy independence by the fourth of July. This bill does zippo.

YOUNG: That’s Illinois Republican John Shimkus, who wanted more emphasis on nuclear power and support for a liquid transportation fuel made from coal. And there are divisions within the democratic ranks as well. Some are disappointed that the House bills avoid two of the biggest energy issues: requirements for more renewable sources of electricity and higher fuel economy standards for autos. Ed Markey of Massachusetts wants to amend the bill to make cars and trucks get 35 miles per gallon, that’s in line with what the Senate recently approved.

MARKEY: The public wants to know if we democrats are ready to approach our energy threats any differently than republicans did during the 12 years they controlled this congress. And this issue is the big missing piece.

YOUNG: Markey’s proposal to increase standards for CAFE, or corporate average fuel economy, has 140 co-sponsors—a third of all the Representatives. Nevertheless, a fellow Democrat House Energy Committee Chairman, John Dingell of Michigan, refused to allow the amendment.

DINGELL: The chair recognizes that the bills we are working on may have displeased some of our more ideologically inclined colleagues on the left and on the right. We are proceeding on legislation where there is consensus. We will need to get beyond the stale debate on miles per gallon and CAFE.

YOUNG: Dingell’s critics accuse him of avoiding fuel economy requirements in order to protect his home state auto industry. This radio ad by the liberal group Move On calls Dingell a dinosaur.


FATHER: A Dingellsaurus. Someone who’s been in Congress so long, he forgets about the people who sent him there.

BOY: Is a Dingellsaurus dangerous?

FATHER: Yeah, very. Because if the Dingellsaurus gets his way, we all could be extinct.

YOUNG: Dingell says he plans to deal with auto efficiency in the fall, when his energy committee drafts comprehensive climate change legislation. Another sore point for some democrats is the lack of a renewable electricity standard. That would require electric utilities to use more renewable sources like wind and solar. The Senate had approved such a measure in past years, but this year it ran into unexpected opposition. New Mexico Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, a renewable energy booster, says he thinks he knows why. Bingaman says some Senators may have voted for solar and wind in earlier years knowing such a measure would fail in the House.

BINGAMAN: Senators that opposed it realized that if we were able to pass it through the Senate this time it might actually become law. Whereas before it was not that big a concern with the House in Republican hands.

YOUNG: The renewable energy and auto fuel efficiency standards could still come up as amendments when the energy debate hits the House floor, likely in mid-July. If the bills pass, another fight is looming with the White House. President Bush has threatened to veto the Democrats energy package. But that’s not causing Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid to back down.

REID: I don’t know what they have down there I guess it’s a big rubber stamp, ‘veto.’ So they can take their rubber stamp and you know what they can do with it.

YOUNG: With a veto showdown and Democratic infighting, it looks like this energy Independence Day is sure to set off some political fireworks.

For Living on Earth I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

[The Beastie Boys “Electric Worm” from ‘The Mix-Up’ (Capitol Records – 2007)]



Explanation of legislation from House Energy Committee

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) on his fuel economy standards proposal

An explanation of Renewable Electricity (or Portfolio) Standards


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