After Years of Effort, Congress Passes Energy Bill

After a strong vote of approval by the House of Representatives on Thursday, and a final vote in the Senate today, H.R. 6, the massive package of energy legislation known simply as the Energy Bill, is on its way to the President’s desk for a signature.

Although some prominent efforts to infuse energy efficiency and renewable energy were dropped by lawmakers, some remaining items survived the Congressional gauntlet and are expected to boost the use of renewable energy in the years to come. Dropped was the Senate’s passage of a 10 percent national Renewable Portfolio Standard, along with attempts to curb the nation’s use of oil or to increase overall vehicle efficiency standards. Ethanol, with its strong farm-belt constituency, made out well through the inclusion of an expanded renewable fuels standard. Supportive measures for renewable energy are minor and mostly limited to the tax title section of the bill. The package includes a two-year extension of wind power’s coveted Production Tax Credit (PTC) which will also be extended to other technologies. The wind power industry, primarily through the efforts of the American Wind Energy Association, pushed with almost an exclusive vigor to secure an extension of the PTC. Similarly, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) focused their efforts on one item of solar tax legislation that will have a major national impact for solar — an unprecedented two-year investment tax credit. The first such legislation in decades, the national tax credit would be capped at $2000 per residential project and no cap for commercial projects. Representatives of the industry characterize the credit as a monumental victory for a worthy technology that’s typically been ignored by Congress. Previous efforts by lawmakers to enact White House driven energy legislation included little if anything of value for solar. Perhaps most importantly, as opposed to three previous efforts since 2001, this year’s effort proved to offer the right balance to gain Congressional approval. Lawsuit protection for the manufacturers of MTBE, a sticky measure that’s crippled passage of the energy bill in the past, was dropped. Similar comprehensive legislation was almost passed in 2003 but stalled due to Senate resistance to the MTBE measure. A contentious provision to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was not included in this bill but rather is expected to be included in an upcoming budget bill where it may be more difficult to prevent. With the Senate’s expected vote today, the bill is expected to go the President’s desk as soon as Monday.
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