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Dems' energy plan shifts from fossil fuel to renewable power
San Francisco Chronicle


July 02, 2007

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled new Democratic legislation that marks a tectonic shift in the energy priorities in Congress, revoking $16 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas drilling and creating incentives to produce biofuels and boost energy efficiency.

But the San Francisco congresswoman disappointed some environmentalists by announcing that she will wait until this fall to allow debate on a major increase in federal fuel economy standards, which the Senate passed in a landmark vote last week.

The Democratic package, which the House will vote on next month, breaks from past congressional energy legislation, which focused heavily on oil, gas, nuclear and coal production. The new legislation is all about conservation and renewable energy.

Pelosi said the measure amounted to a new American revolution in energy and climate change.

"It provides the largest investment in home-grown biofuels and supports clean, renewable energy," Pelosi said. "It lowers energy costs for the consumers with greater efficiency and smarter technology."

The package is likely to be approved by the Democrat-controlled House, but it could face obstacles when it's merged with a Senate energy bill that differs in key ways. The Senate narrowly rejected an effort to revoke billions in tax breaks to the oil industry, which is the centerpiece of the House measure.

Republicans denounced the legislation as a "no-energy energy bill" because it would not increase domestic supplies of oil, gas, coal or nuclear power, the traditional sources of energy that the country relies on today.

The package was the result of Pelosi's call earlier this year for every Democratic committee chair to come up with legislation by July 4 to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil while also addressing climate change.

The legislation would rescind $16 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas production and shift that money to new subsidies for wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower. It also would offer incentives to install more fuel pumps for vehicles that run on ethanol, tax breaks and grants to help local governments and homeowners reduce their energy use and a $3.5 billion package to jump-start the cellulosic ethanol industry.

The measure raises energy efficiency standards for appliances and lighting and offers new incentives to build green buildings. All federal agencies would have to report their annual greenhouse gas emissions, and the bill requires that the federal government's entire operation be carbon neutral by 2050.

The package is heavy on symbolism -- including policies to encourage state transportation agencies to boost mass transit and a nonbinding resolution calling on the Bush administration to re-engage in international climate talks and accept binding limits on greenhouse gases.

House Republicans complained the package would do little to wean The United States off its dependence on foreign oil. GOP leaders favor opening new areas off the nation's coasts and Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling -- proposals blocked by Democrats in recent years.

"So far the bills the Democrats have put forward produce no energy," said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the House minority whip. "It's the no-energy energy policy."

Democrats rejected the charge. Pelosi said the GOP's no-energy complaint was a cute line, but said the measure will produce more renewable energy while also reducing the nation's demand for energy through efficiency measures.

"Their sphere of thinking is only in the fossil fuels," added Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee. "But even this bill, it is going to make fossil fuels more efficient."

Pelosi's tight deadline for passing the measure forced Democrats to drop some of the most sweeping -- and controversial -- provisions from the bill. A dispute over a proposal to block California and other states from setting greenhouse gas limits was put off until the fall. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., an ally of U.S. automakers who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, also delayed consideration of new fuel economy standards until at least September.

Momentum also appears to be building for climate change legislation in Congress. Dingell said this week his bill this fall will seek to cut greenhouse gases by 60 to 80 percent by 2050 -- reductions many climate scientists say are needed to avert the most harmful effects of global warming.

In the Senate, Virginia Republican John Warner, who is widely respected by both parties, endorsed an economy-wide system to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and pledged to introduce legislation with Sen. Joe Lieberman, independent-Conn., before the August break.


E-mail Zachary Coile at zcoile(at)
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