House Passes Bill to Support Renewable Energy

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 5, 2007

The House yesterday passed a far-reaching package of energy legislation that would promote conservation and the use of renewable resources at the expense of the country's oil and gas interests.

The bill, which passed 241 to 172, would require more energy efficiency in appliances, buildings and power grids, which proponents of the bill say would reduce carbon dioxide emissions and electricity use. It calls for more energy efficiency measures in the Capitol building. It also would provide grants for studies to promote ethanol pipelines, installation of pumps for 85 percent ethanol fuel at gas stations and production of cellulosic ethanol.

The Democrats also won passage of a provision that would require that 15 percent of electricity from private utilities come from solar, wind or other renewable energy sources. It would be the first such requirement to apply to all the states.

The House last night also passed, 221 to 189, a companion tax package, totaling nearly $16 billion, that targets the oil and gas industry. In a letter to Congress, however, the Bush administration said Friday that the two House measures would result in less domestic oil and gas production. The letter said President Bush's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bills.

Since taking control of Congress last year, the Democrats have identified the reordering of the nation's energy priorities as an important goal that would position their party as the principal advocates for environmentally friendly policies.

"This is the historic break with the fossil-fuel past and the beginning of the solar wind renewable era in the United States," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. "People will look back at this as the turning point where Congress began to embrace renewable energy."

However, the energy bill omitted several proposals, including other mandates for renewable energy, incentives for coal-to-liquid production and a tougher vehicle fuel-economy standard contained in a Senate package that was passed in June. They could be taken up later this year, when the House and Senate reconcile their energy bills, or in a possible bill on global warming.

"There are many things that will put the strength of the federal government behind energy conservation and renewable energy," Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said of the House legislation. "This bill is some of the low-hanging fruit -- the issues that we can agree upon across regions. This is a warm-up for us to tackle those tougher issues."

Republicans pilloried the bill for ignoring ways to boost the nation's traditional energy supplies -- labeling it the Democrats' "energy scarcity bill." Republicans challenged Democrats for doing nothing to promote nuclear power, coal-to-liquid plants or new oil offshore drilling in federal waters.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) launched a drive for a new energy bill in January, but Democrats struggled over key issues. The byproduct of 10 committees, the "consensus" energy bill nearly came unraveled in skirmishes over turf and regional conflicts.

Pelosi has had to mollify members from oil- and gas-producing districts by changing provisions on oil royalties and permitting. Democrats also had to contend with opposition to the renewable electricity mandate by lawmakers from Southern states, where officials say they lack the wind or hydropower resources to meet those standards.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the lead sponsor of the provision, lowered the mandate from 20 to 15 percent, broadening support for the measure. Later in negotiations, supporters made another change allowing states to achieve up to 4 percent of the new mandate through efficiency. The provision passed as an amendment to the energy bill by a vote of 220 to 190.

The House energy bill left out vehicle fuel economy increases included in the Senate bill, in the face of heavy opposition from auto lobbyists, the United Auto Workers and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.).

Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants to make auto fuel usage part of a broad climate change bill later in the year.

Throughout the year, Dingell squared off with Markey, a principal supporter of higher fuel economy standards. With that fight moving to a conference committee, Markey said yesterday that he wants a seat at that table.

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