Bringing an Energy Bill Home
Congress is now within reach of a breakthrough energy bill that would reduce both America’s dependence on foreign oil and its emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. House passage later this week is virtually certain. Senate approval depends on whether the majority leader, Harry Reid, and the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, can corral a half-dozen votes among moderate Republicans to resist a threatened filibuster.
Success would earn them the gratitude of a country that badly needs a rational energy strategy.
The bill’s centerpiece, negotiated over the weekend by House leaders, is the first meaningful increase in fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, including S.U.V.’s, in more than 30 years. The provision would raise average fuel economy standards from 25 miles per gallon today to 35 miles per gallon in 2020. It would eventually save about 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, one-half of current imports from the Persian Gulf.
A similar provision was approved by the Senate last summer. That the House has now accepted it is a tribute to the persistence of Ed Markey of Massachusetts, an unrelenting champion of fuel efficiency; the negotiating skills of Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker; and a statesmanlike willingness to compromise on the part of John Dingell, the powerful Michigan Democrat who realized that it was no longer plausible to defend all of Detroit’s demands in the face of $90 a barrel oil.
The bill includes several other important provisions. One calls for a big increase in the production and distribution of advanced forms of ethanol from sources other than corn. With strong environmental safeguards, this provision could reduce both oil consumption and greenhouse gases.
Another critical provision — the renewable electricity standard — would require utilities to generate 15 percent of their power by 2020 from a combination of improved efficiency and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
This is the most vulnerable part of the bill. Senator Pete Domenici, an influential Republican voice on energy issues, is vowing to fight it, even though he has voted for similar provisions before and his own state of New Mexico has embarked on an aggressive renewable electricity program.
The White House is also opposed and has hinted that President Bush would veto the entire bill if the renewable electricity provision survives. Torpedoing this bill would make it harder to address the problem of global warming, while leaving this country ever more dependent on foreign oil. Mr. Bush and Mr. Domenici should not stand in the way.