Democratic News

When Congress gavels closed today, the Senate will begin a week-long recess to honor Independence Day. I suspect that many of you who cover energy may still be at work next week in search of stories. No one knows precisely when the Senate will resume consideration of S. 14, the Republican energy bill. There is stiff competition for floor time in July, and the GOP leadership now suggests late July, right before the next recess. Senate Dems have not been lulled into complacency because our Republican friends are struggling to find the time to devote to legislating on energy. We believe there are major and substantial problems with this bill, and we’re working hard to fix these. When we do get back on S. 14, we’ll be prepared to propound several substantive amendments on the issues of interest and concern, all in an effort to get this bill into a shape we can support. Here’s a run-through: Over the last two years, Senate Democrats have pursued a comprehensive yet balanced approach to energy policy. In 2002, Democrats worked with Republicans to pass energy legislation (by a vote of 88-11, after eight weeks of floor debate) to strengthen our national energy security, safeguard consumers and taxpayers and protect the environment. Unfortunately, this balanced, bipartisan bill did not make it out of conference. On May 6, the Senate began consideration of S. 14 (the Energy Policy Act of 2003). In May and early June, the Senate spent nine days on the bill, considered 24 amendments and held 12 roll call votes in relation to the bill. Recognizing that S.14 would fail to improve our energy security, safeguard consumers and taxpayers or protect the environment, Democrats have worked to improve the bill in the following ways: Hydroelectric dam relicensing. The Senate bill should eliminate language to give utilities in hydroelectric licensing proceedings special powers that are not available to tribes, states, consumer groups, conservationists and other third parties. Renewable Portfolio Standard. The Senate bill should require utilities to generate at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. Currently, about 2 percent of the electricity in the United States comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. Electricity. The Senate bill should protect American consumers by ensuring that all forms of electricity market manipulation are illegal, while simultaneously bolstering the reliability and productivity of our electric transmission system. The Republican bill bans only one kind of manipulation, and contains few concrete remedies when market participants break the rules. It is essential that consumers are protected against utility mergers and consolidations. Global warming. The Senate bill should create a comprehensive framework to address global warming that includes provisions to designate a White House Office of Climate Change Policy; develop a national strategy to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations; create a greenhouse gas emissions reporting program; expand global climate change science programs; and implement measures to encourage greater access to international markets for U.S. clean energy technologies. Indian energy. The Senate bill should eliminate language that exempts energy projects on Indian lands from environment review while also watering down the traditional trust responsibility of the federal government to Indian tribes. Nuclear power. The Senate bill should not include the committee-passed provisions that would require taxpayers to provide up to $30 billion in federal loan guarantees to assist the nuclear industry in the construction of six (or more) new nuclear power plants and $865 million for the Department of Energy to build an advanced nuclear reactor in Idaho.