Congress Spends Week Marking Up Big Energy Bill

By Published On: June 8, 2007

An attempt to override California’s authority in curbing greenhouse gas emissions was thwarted, while a play to remove federal authority over transmission corridors failed, as several Congressional committees acted this week on federal energy legislation. They continue to mark up their sections of the year’s omnibus energy bill. The sweeping federal energy legislation, called the Energy Independence Act, is being put together for release on Independence Day July 4. The House Appropriations Committee failed to pass an amendment June 6 that would strip out Department of Energy funding for implementing national transmission corridors. Eastern politicians offered up the amendment as a means to keep the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from being able to usurp state ability to site transmission lines. The House Energy & Commerce Air Quality Subcommittee June 7 began discussing its part of the federal energy bill. Among other topics, one part of the language would increase the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority over alternative fuels. That language would have the EPA gain authority under the Clean Air Act to mandate low-carbon fuel—effectively overriding states’ authority. It would also allow the EPA to use its Clean Air Act authority to regulate greenhouse gases from fuels. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) quickly put the kibosh on the state override, with concern the legislation would pre-empt California from enforcing its own greenhouse gas emissions standards. The Speaker—who controls what bills move to the House floor for a vote—said she would not support any such legislation. Other highlights of the “discussion draft” legislation developed by Air Quality panel chair Rep. Rick Boucher’s (D-VA) subcommittee are as follows: Alternative fuels—EPA would be required to estimate minimum volumes of alternative fuel beginning in 2013 with a goal of 35 billion gallons a year in 2025. Cellulosic ethanol—The measure would increase grants for production of cellulosic ethanol. Alternative fuel infrastructure—The Secretary of Energy would be required to establish grants to expand alternative fuel distribution infrastructure. Ethanol pipelines—Both the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of Transportation would have to consult on the feasibility of dedicated ethanol pipelines. CAFE standards—Beginning in 2021, passenger cars would have to achieve mileage of 36 miles per gallon; other vehicles would have to achieve 30 mpg by 2024. The draft is meant to “raise challenging policy questions involving complicated issues” involved in treating the transportation sector as a system, according to Boucher, who said he anticipates “a vigorous debate.” The House Committee on Natural Resources marked up its part of the omnibus energy bill though HR 2337. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires an inter-agency process to pre-identify the optimum corridors for transmission projects when they are on, or are crossing federal lands. The committee considered stripping out that part of the 2005 legislation. At press time, the committee planned to continue discussions next week. On specific, non-omnibus bills, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee approved three bills that affect federal operations. S. 506, by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. John Warner (R-VA), and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) would encourage green government buildings. It also passed another Lautenberg bill, S. 506. It would establish a demonstration of state-of-the-art technology to capture greenhouse gases from burning coal at the Capitol Hill Power Plant in Washington, DC. H.R. 798, by Sen. James Oberstar (D-MN) and Sen. Mica (R-FL), would authorize a “solar wall” of 25,000 photovoltaic cells on the roof of the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, DC. Meanwhile in the upper chamber, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has introduced S. 1370, a bill that would extend tax credits for renewable energy production and energy efficiency, as well as establish new federal tax incentives for installation of “smart meters.”

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