Vote Reports for Illinois official in D.C. on energy issues
By Hans Detweiler
By Hans Detweiler
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Its been a big week on Capitol Hill for energy issues, including: 1. New support for the Energy Title in the Farm Bill conference committee. 2. Votes on creating a national Renewable Portfolio Standard. 3. Failure to increase automobile efficiency standards; and 4. Final passage of the Production Tax Credit for wind and some biomass energy production.
Taken in order: 1. Farm Bill Energy Title: Illinois Representatives Rod Blagojevich, Mark Kirk, Bobby Rush, and Jan Schakowsky all joined with Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur in urging the Farm Bill Conference Committee (the joint House and Senate committee designed to resolve differences between the Farm Bill versions passed by each house) to support the Senates Energy Title. The Energy Title in the Senate version provides more than $500 million for increased production and use of renewable energy on Americas farms, and includes measures to increase on-farm energy efficiency as well. The House version has no Energy Title. The letter had more than 50 signatories from around the country with strong representation in the Midwest. For more information on the Energy Title, go to: http://www.elpc.org/energy/factsheetcleanenergytitle.php
2. Last Thursday, the Senate began debate on whether or not to include a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in the Energy Bill, and on the size of the potential RPS, with both Illinois Senators Durbin and Fitzgerald showing strong support for an RPS. An RPS is a requirement that a certain percentage of the electricity supplied by each power company needs to come from renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and clean bioenergy crops. The Energy Bill (S. 517) sponsored by Senator Daschle includes a 10% RPS by 2020, with Senator Jeffords of Vermont proposing an amendment to increase the RPS to 20% by 2020. Senator Kyl of Arizona proposed an amendment to eliminate the RPS entirely, and with Senator Bingaman offering a very complex amendment to change the rules of what would qualify as renewable and set the requirement at 8.5% by 2020. The Senate voted only on the Jeffords amendment Thursday (to increase the RPS to 20% by 2020), and while both Illinois Senators Durbin and Fitzgerald voted to support it, the amendment failed overall by 29-70. However, Senator Jeffords ran the amendment more to gauge support for a strong RPS than because he actually expected it to pass. It got many more votes than expected, which prompted Senator Kyl to temporarily withdraw his amendment, suspending further action until next week. The fate of the 10% RPS is very unclear, with neither side certain they have 50 votes.
3. Unfortunately, the Senate decided once again not to increase energy efficiency standards of our cars and trucks (CAFÉ standards, for Corporate Average Fuel Economy), rejecting a proposal by Senator Kerry to increase the standards to 36 mpg by 2015. With a vote of 62-38, the Senate replaced the increase with a requirement that the Bush administration study an increase. The current CAFE standards which havent been changed in 15 years are 27.5 mpg for cars, and 20.7 mpg for light trucks, while the overall efficiency of American vehicles has dropped steadily with the increasing popularity of SUVs. Whereas in 1950 the US supplied more than 50% of the worlds oil, American oil supplies have been in sharp decline since the late 1970s, and America now imports more than 50% of the oil it consumes. Sen. Durbin and other lawmakers who voted for legislation increasing the standard argued it would significantly decrease dependence on foreign oil, cut air pollution and decrease emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Senator Fitzgerald for some reason I simply cannot comprehend, however, voted against raising the efficiency standard.
4. Last week, both houses of Congress finally passed the economic stimulus package intended to address the attacks of September 11 and the faltering economy, and the package was signed by President Bush. While the main measures of the package have been widely reported, the very good news is that the package included a two year extension of the 1.5 cent per kwh Production Tax Credit for wind energy and certain types of bioenergy. The 1.5 cent tax credit is vital to the American wind industry to level the playing field by balancing the many subsidies for coal, nuclear, and natural gas fired power generation. Several major wind projects are under development in Illinois today, and we are hopeful that with the PTC extension, we will see some significant project announcements by the end of the year. The PTC was not considered controversial.