Monday, October 22, 2007

Energy Bill Tensions; Senators Want Conference & Changes To CAFE

Oct 18: Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues including Mark Pryor (D-AR), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Christopher Bond (R-MO), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) wrote to Senate leaders and the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee to call for a House-Senate conference on the energy bill and to highlight four issues related to fuel economy standards that would need to be satisfactorily resolved in the conference. The Senators said, “We agree that CAFE standards must be increased and support aggressive yet achievable new standards, and we are wiling to work with you to find a compromise that accomplishes this goal. While we support efforts to go to conference, for the same reasons we opposed the Senate provisions on CAFE, we would strongly object to a conference report that adopted these provisions because they would have a needlessly detrimental effect on the auto industry and its workers.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) criticized the Senators' action, and particularly Senators Levin and Stabenow saying they had asked Senate leaders to weaken the vehicle fuel economy provision in the energy bill. UCS said the Senators' "laundry list of complaints are based on tired auto industry rhetoric that has been debunked by multiple critics, including the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute." The group also pointed out that the Senate rejected a nearly identical attempt to weaken the provision, which would require automakers to meet a 35-miles-per-gallon fleet average by 2020, when it passed its version of the energy bill this summer.

Eli Hopson, Washington representative for the UCS's Clean Vehicle Program said, "The auto industry and its allies in Congress have long since lost any credibility when it comes to fuel economy legislation. It's time for Michigan's senators to acknowledge that what's good for America is good for Detroit. A 35-miles-per-gallon fleet average would generate hundreds of thousands of domestic jobs, save consumers tens of billions of dollars at the pump, and dramatically cut our dependence on oil. With oil now at more than $80 a barrel, we're sending a billion dollars a day out of the country to pay for oil imports."

UCS said the weak, automaker-backed proposal Senators Levin and Stabenow favor also would extend a flex-fuel loophole allowing automakers to earn fuel economy credits for vehicles that can run on alternative fuels, but which, in practice, run on conventional gasoline 99 percent of the time.

On October 18, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a formal Senate-House conference committee to finalize an energy bill. Domenici was joined on the letter by Senator Ted Stevens, ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Senator James Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In their letter, the three Senators said, "We are writing in regard to energy legislation pending before the Congress. As you recall, the Senate passed H.R. 6 on June 21st [
See WIMS 6/22/07]. On August 4th [See WIMS 8/4/07], the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3221. Last Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi announced her intention to bypass the appointment of a conference committee to reconcile the differences between these two bills. We regret the Speaker’s decision to do this and we are deeply concerned about the integrity of long-standing procedures in the Congress if the Speaker’s decision is allowed to stand. Upon the commencement of the 110th Congress, the Senate Majority Leadership stated that the Congress would have 'real, public, conferences in which public issues would be debated and voted upon.' Today, the Majority Leadership in the House of Representatives is putting that promise to the test."

Access a brief announcement from Senator Levin (
click here). Access the Levin, et al letter (click here). Access a release from UCS (click here). Access the release and letter from Senators Domenici, et al (click here). [*Energy]