By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Efforts by members of Congress to pass an energy bill hit another bump yesterday when the White House suggested that President Bush might veto the bill, but Democratic leaders said they would not alter the package assembled last week after intense negotiating over fuel efficiency standards.
Allan B. Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, said in a letter yesterday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the energy package failed to meet criteria he set out in October and that "it appears Congress may intend to produce a bill the President cannot sign."
But after Pelosi met for more than an hour with Hubbard at the Capitol last night, her spokesman, Drew Hammill, said that "the speaker is hopeful that, when the president reviews the final bill language, he will join the business, labor and environmental communities and support this legislation."
Hubbard objected to a provision that would require utilities to use renewable electricity sources for at least 15 percent of their power generation by 2020. The provision would allow utilities to count energy efficiency as up to 4 percent of that amount. Many utilities in the Southeast, especially Southern Co. of Atlanta, have complained that they cannot meet this target, and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said it would make the bill "untenable for many in the Senate."
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), when asked whether there were enough votes to pass the energy package in the Senate, said: "I think, yes, we do have enough votes. But time will tell."
Hubbard also said that the president preferred his own "alternative" fuel standard to the compromise language worked out by the House and Senate to set minimum levels of biofuel use. Democrats believe that by using the word "alternative" instead of "renewable," Hubbard was signaling a desire to include liquid fuels derived from coal.
In addition, Hubbard said the proposed legislation leaves "ambiguous" the role of the Environmental Protection Agency in setting mileage standards, a reference to the possibility that court rulings might require the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Chrysler has led a push to make sure that the EPA will not be able to make fuel efficiency standards more stringent.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who has introduced several fuel efficiency bills since 2001, said he doubted that Bush would veto the bill because public opinion is heavily in favor of greater fuel efficiency and renewable use. Markey also said that the fuel savings would be a "huge downpayment" on what the United States would need to do to meet widely accepted greenhouse gas targets by 2030.
"It's a tough thing to veto," Markey said.