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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

House Passes Clean Energy Bills Including National Renewable Energy Standard

The House passes crucical clean energy legislation, but challenges still await in the form of a contentious conference committee and a possible presidential veto.

This past Saturday, the House of Representatives took a crucial step towards creating the sustainable energy future we’ve been calling for with the passage of two important clean energy bills.

The first, H.R.3221, the "New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act" is a package of energy efficiency provisions, clean energy R&D spending and other energy policies. Weighing in at almost 800 pages long, H.R.3221 has been a project of more than a half-dozen committees for the past few months. It finally made it to the House floor Saturday and passed with a vote of 241-172.

The second bill, H.R.2776 is a package of tax incentives, loan guarantees and other financial incentives for clean energy, and is known as the "Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007. The bill includes expansions of several popular and effective incentives, including the federal production tax credit, the solar investment tax credit and community renewable energy bonds. H.R.2771 passed 221-189.

The nearly $16 billion in clean energy appropriations in the two bills are funded by eliminating oil and gas company tax breaks and closing loopholes and correcting mistakes in current tax and royalty laws.

A summary of both clean energy bills can be found at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's website.

Perhaps the biggest, and most surprising, victory of the day was the passage of an amendment (pdf) sponsored by Representative Tom Udall (D-NM) that establishes a national renewable energy standard (RES) requiring utilities across the country - other than public utilties and electric cooperatives - to get at least 15% of their electricity from clean, homegrown renewable energy sources by 2020. In a compromise that helped secure the RES amendment's passage with a 220-190 vote, up to 4 percentage points of the 15% standard may be met by energy efficiency investments. It should be noted that states will retain the authority to implement higher standards and that those already in place will be protected.

While the passage of the RES amendment and the two clean energy bills is a major clean energy victory, this was only the first of three battles bills must face before being implemented.

The Senate, unable to get the necessary support to overcome a filibuster, did not include a renewable energy standard in its energy package this past June, nor was it able to pass a tax package proposal similar to H.R.2771. Additionally, the House failed to muster support for an increase in CAFÉ standards - an increase in fuel efficiency requirement to 35 mpg by 2020 for cars, SUV’s, and light trucks - that was included in the Senate energy package.

The differences in the two packages will need to be debated in conference committee, when the House and Senate energy packages are merged. When the package goes to conference, CAFÉ and RES are going to be important talking points. Democratic leaders will try to include both provisions and protect the tax package while Senate Republicans have called the RES a "deal-breaker" and even some House Democrats have opposed increased CAFÉ standards, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell, who has jurisdiction over the issue.

An opinion piece in the LA Times explains the situation perfectly:

"In june, the senate passed an energy bill loaded with creamy peanut butter. On Saturday… the House approved an energy package that’s pure chocolate.Cookies If we could get these two together without removing their tastiest ingredients, the nation would be in for a history-making treat."
Like the Energizer Bunny, it seems the energy debates will keep going and going and going through the fall, and the fate of these provisions now lies in the hands of House and Senate leaders who will participate in the conference committee.As if surviving conference not a big enough challenge, the final battle for crucial clean energy legislation will be against our President, George W. Bush, who has threatened to veto the energy package when it comes to his desk. The President is opposed to the provisions in two House energy bills that would end tax breaks for the oil and gas industry to pay for clean energy investments.

We need rid America of our reliance on fossil fuels and build a new, sustainable energy future. If the best elements of both the House and Senate energy packages can survive conference and veto, this will be a historic first step towards that future.

Though the RES amendment had to be weakened to ensure necessary support - the targets were first dropped from 20% to 15% and then up to 4% of that was allowed to come from energy efficiency before supporters could secure the necessary votes - the completed energy package is a promising step forward, and certainly worth celebrating.

The tides are beginning to change. The tenacity with which activists have attacked climate change is beginning to show serious results.

Let your Representatives and Senators know you support a strong energy package, one which includes both an RES and increased CAFE standards.

We have the opportunity to truly shift the direction our country is headed in. The energy bills passed by the House and Senate won't be the end of the story, but they are a crucial step forward. Congress wont be back in session until September 4th, so take this time to make your position known.

[A hat tip to Mattew Maiorana]

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