The Energy Bill Returns

It’s back. In the days after President Bush delivered his State of the Union address, Senate Energy Chairman Pete V. Domenici reaffirmed his commitment to passing H.R. 6, the nation’s first comprehensive energy bill in over a decade. And once again the contentious bill is exposing rifts in the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and environmental community.

Washington, D.C. – January 30, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] At first glance, support from the renewable energy community appears cemented since all the major renewable energy groups reiterated the support they gave the bill last fall when it failed to gain congressional support on close margins. The following representatives released a joint statement calling on congress to resolve issues that led to the bill’s downfall last year: Jaime Steve, American Wind Energy Association; Karl Gawell, Geothermal Energy Association; Linda Church Ciocci, National Hydropower Association; Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association; Glenn Hamer, Solar Energy Industries Association. The groups all agreed on one thing – that passage of the Energy Bill is essential for increasing the use of renewable energy in the United States. “On behalf of the renewable energy industries, we urge all members of Congress to continue working towards enacting broad national energy legislation,” the joint statement said. “The Congressional debate indicated that there is strong bipartisan support for expanding renewable energy production and establishing a sound national energy policy. We urge all members of Congress to work with the President and the Congressional leadership to enact legislation that achieves these goals.” “It will be devastating for the renewable energy industries if Congress does not pass an energy bill this year,” the statement went on to say. “The energy legislation contains a wide variety of programs, initiatives, tax credits and other policies for the production and consumption of renewable energy and for greater energy efficiency. Without enactment of a bill early this year, new renewable energy investment will languish, which will have negative consequences for the economy, the environment and energy security.” While it appears to be the best thing for the renewable energy industries, not everyone is on board – especially environmentally-oriented groups that typically side with their clean energy counterparts. Many of which are aligned in umbrella clean energy organizations such as the Sustainable Energy Coalition. Right around the same time as the major industry organizations expressed their support for the Energy Bill, eighteen business, consumer, environmental, and energy policy organizations called upon members of the U.S. Congress to, “enact the broadly-supported energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions in the proposed, but presently stalled, national energy bill.” These groups included the American Solar Energy Society, publisher of the magazine Solar Today, the Geothermal Resources Council and the Clean Fuels Development Coalition among others. The full list of signatories can be found at the end of the story. In the letters sent to members of the congressional leadership, the groups stressed that, “there is substantial support in Congress and around the country for the cross-section of sustainable energy provisions in the final energy bill. [Accordingly,] Congress should act immediately to enact these non-controversial and vitally important provisions as part of a comprehensive, balanced, and environmentally sound energy bill, as stand-alone legislation, or through incorporation into another piece of legislation.” While he respects the groups who signed onto the letter, and believes they have noble intentions, Glenn Hamer, of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) thinks it’s a far-fetched pipe dream with zero political chance. “People can dream, but it’s a fantasy land scenario,” Hamer said. “It’s not a serious effort and that’s why the major groups did not sign on. The energy bill is the only vehicle for most, if not all those provisions. They’re all good groups, good people. We all want to see the renewable energy provisions enacted into law. Getting these through is the most important. It’s a well written letter, were just all stating focused.” Hamer said it’s also a question of speed. The energy bill has some Congressional momentum behind it right now, while separating out all the renewable energy/energy efficiency legislation is a new, and many deem politically impossible, goal. While there may be some contentious legislation in the Energy Bill’s current form, such as lawsuit immunity for the manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE, and what some call “lavish” subsidies for the fossil and nuclear industries, Hamer has his eye on the prize. Despite what critics have to say about the bill, he sees the need to secure renewable energy-friendly legislation as soon as possible so the industries can grow and prosper. “They (renewable energy industries) are certainly not growing the way they could,” Hamer said. “To me there’s an amazing amount of pent-up productive energy to move renewables forward in this country. The second the president signs the Energy Bill into law, they’ll take off.” Whether for Medicare, transportation, or spending appropriations – omnibus energy bills are inherently contentious and never satisfy everyone involved. Unfortunately, that’s the system we work with in the U.S., and in the end, it’s a system that does work, Hamer said. Karl Gawell, Executive Director, of the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) also doesn’t see any chance of renewable energy legislation being passed separately. “The political situation doesn’t necessarily change if Congress tries to break up the bill, and it could get worse,” Gawell said. “Given the fact that Congress has less than 100 days in session taking legislation from the starting point through both the House and Senate, possibly a conference, and back for final approval in both the House and Senate might not even be possible. Furthermore, the provisions that some people object to so strenuously in the energy bill might just find their way on to those separate packages as well.” Senator Domenici, one of the key architects of the bill has made it clear he won’t entertain any break-up plans for the Energy Bill. “In the next few weeks, I will be working closely with House leadership to see what steps we can take to get the last few votes we need for final passage,” Domenici said. “The one option I absolutely will not consider is breaking this bill up. I will resist such an effort with every resource I have. It’s the start of the year and we’re only two votes down. It’s far too early to talk about breaking this bill up. I intend to focus on final passage. I urge my colleagues to do likewise.” A break-up of the bill could also throw the whole process for enacting important renewable energy legislation months, even years back. That’s a point both Hamer and Gawell stress. “At the moment, it’s reasonable to see what can be worked out in the Senate, and whether its possible to work from the existing bill to send a measure to the President’s desk rather than retracing the tortuous steps of the legislative process with no greater certainty that the result will be any better,” Gawell said. “As far as the renewable groups are concerned, we can only hope that the renewable (and efficiency) provisions are enacted soon. However the next few months of legislative wrangling turn out, this Energy Bill has brought something unmistakably new to the clean energy community. Division. “I’m not going to war with the environmental community,” Hamer said. “In this one case you do have a true split – It’s unprecedented to see this type of split. It’s not personal, we’re just in different places on this and we all still share the same goal. We all want to see them (renewable energy/energy efficiency) prosper and become a more important part of our country’s plans.” BACK TO STORY Alliance for Affordable Energy Alliance to Save Energy American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy American Solar Energy Society Bob Lawrence & Associates City & County of San Francisco Clean Fuels Development Coalition Colorado Energy Group Environmental & Energy Study Institute Geothermal Resources Council Mainstay Energy Metropolitan Partnership for Energy New Uses Council Potomac Resources, Inc. Redwood Alliance REP (Republicans for Environmental Protection) America SustainableBusiness.com The Stella Group, Ltd.
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