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June 22, 2007

Energy Policy

Senate Passes Energy Bill

Vote follows surprise agreement over vehicle-efficiency standards

Jeff Johnson

Just before midnight on June 21, by a 65 to 27 vote, the Senate passed a broad energy bill. The vote followed a surprise agreement over vehicle-efficiency standards that had bottled up the bill on the Senate floor for more than a week.

The agreement raises vehicle mile-per-gallon requirements for the first time in more than 30 years. It increases today's average of 25 mpg to 35 mpg by 2020 for cars and trucks. With the vote, lawmakers agreed to drop a provision in the bill that would have required mile-per-gallon increases of 4% annually after 2020. Approval of the amendment by voice vote followed a week of private negotiations among senators, who were caught between U.S. automakers that strongly oppose any efficiency increase and a mix of states and environmental groups that want a tougher standard.

The agreement, together with a narrow vote earlier in the day to invoke cloture, helped push the bill closer to approval. In the Senate, a cloture vote puts a time limit of 30 hours on floor debate.

Senate Republicans and Democrats had been far apart on the energy bill, and floor manager Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) had charged that Republicans were stalling the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had threatened to call for the cloture vote several times during the week but lacked the 60-vote majority to pull it off.

Reid called the energy bill vote a "victory for the American people" and said he may propose additional legislation to encourage clean energy in the months ahead.

Among the bill's provisions are new efficiency and lighting standards, penalties for gasoline "price gouging," and a mandate that 36 billion gal of ethanol be in use by 2022.

A far-reaching provision calling for a national renewable energy standard was blocked from Senate consideration by opposition from utilities and Republicans. The provision would have required utilities to generate 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Long sought by Bingaman, the requirement is similar to laws in 28 states. When threatened with a filibuster, Bingaman dropped the provision from floor consideration but promised to bring it up again in other legislation or possibly in House-Senate negotiations over a final energy bill if the House clears similar energy legislation.

The Senate voted down an amendment that would have provided $32 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy, infrastructure improvements, and other energy areas. Most of the costs would have been offset by a cut in tax incentives to oil and gas producers.

The House is in the midst of its own debate over an energy bill. On June 20, the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy & Air Quality took up specific energy language in a 13-hour debate that stretched into the night. Strong views were expressed, but little action was taken. Even seemingly straightforward energy-efficiency provisions absorbed seven hours of subcommittee time.

The bill markup itself was controversial and moved forward only after Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed to avoid difficult energy issues—particularly vehicle-efficiency requirements—until fall, when the committee intends to take up a broader bill.

With the Senate vote, however, it is unclear whether that agreement will stand and whether vehicle-efficiency requirements will be added to energy legislation in committee or on the floor.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society