Senate Vote Expected on Bill with Billions for Energy

By Published On: February 6, 2009

The U.S. Senate continued debate on economic stimulus legislation February 5 that would inject billions of dollars into energy projects. That ranges from helping build new transmission lines and clean power plants to upgrading energy efficiency in homes and buildings. The Senate took up the bill after it passed the House January 28 on a party line vote (Circuit, Jan. 30, 2009). As Senate debate began, the White House urged lawmakers to look at the bill as a way to make long-term investments in neglected areas of the economy. “This begins with putting the nation in position to lead in the clean energy economy,” White House Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag wrote February 3 to Congressional leaders. Senate Appropriations Committee chair Daniel Inouye (D-HI) said the energy money addresses “critical needs” that will create new jobs and pave the way for “future prosperity.” However, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) complained that at a cost of up to $250,000 apiece, the new jobs would be too expensive. The Senate version of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 would offer $33 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy investments and an additional $5.4 billion in tax write offs for conservation, energy efficiency, and alternative fuel stations. The bill would provide for direct federal spending, too, totaling $28.4 billion for the energy industry. That includes $4.6 billion for clean coal, $4.5 billion to develop smart grid systems, $4.2 billion for energy efficiency and conservation, and $2.9 billion for weatherization assistance. The act would further appropriate $2.6 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research, $2 billion to develop advanced batteries for electric cars, and $1.6 billion for energy efficiency grants to hospitals and schools. It would create $10 billion in new loan guarantees for renewable energy projects and associated transmission lines and allow both the Western Area Power Administration and Bonneville Power Administration to borrow additional money to build new transmission lines. In another provision, the bill would offer $50 billion in loan guarantees for energy projects authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service criticized the provision, claiming it mainly would benefit nuclear power plant projects. In 2007, Congress put $18.5 billion on the table to guarantee loans for new nuclear power plants, but no projects have gone forward yet and the money remains unused. A Senate vote on the economic stimulus measure was expected as early as today. Congressional leaders say they still hope—after a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions—to get a final bill to the White House by February 16.

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