Democratic News

Opening Statement for Energy Conference Senator Jeff Bingaman Nov. 17, 2003 Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for convening this meeting of the conference on the energy bill. As you know, the Senate Democratic conferees, and our entire caucus, have vigorously objected to the manner in which this conference has been conducted. Now that we have seen the end-result of that process, our concerns about a flawed process impacting on the product are greater than ever. I am deeply concerned that the conference report before us does not represent the kind of forward-looking balanced energy policy that our Nation needs. It does not go far enough in reducing our reliance on imported oil. It fails to provide appropriate and adequate remedies to prevent a recurrence of the electricity blackout the Northeast experienced this summer or the price crisis the West experienced three years ago. It fails to address many other important issues, such as an RPS or climate change. It contains waivers of environmental laws. And it provides for unjustified subsidies and pork-barrel programs. I hope that the conferees will accept amendments today to improve this flawed product. The basic task of any conference is to take the two positions that have been passed by the respective bodies, to reconcile them with one another through a deliberative process involving all conferees, and to produce a conference report that can be approved by each body. In large part, that has not happened here. The Senate bill has largely been treated as a mere “ticket to conference.” We are faced today with a over 1100 pages of highly involved legislative text, several hundred pages of which were only distributed, in any form, to conferees in the last 48 hours. All told, we estimate that over 40 percent of this conference report now laying before us was brand new text to just about all conferees as of this past Saturday. Republican staff had 71 days to put this together, we have had less than 2 days to analyze it and prepare for this meeting. Now, in over 1,100 pages of text, there certainly are constructive provisions that I and my colleagues can support. Many of the appliance efficiency and R&D provisions will command broad bipartisan support, as they always have. There are many tax provisions that I support and have advocated for a long time, like the renewable production tax credits and the marginal well tax credit. There are many other provisions in this conference report draft that aren’t objectionable, even if they don’t do much to deal with our energy problem But while the conference report contains these positive and neutral provisions, it is also marred by provisions that either are wasteful or that take us away from a sound and supportable energy policy. A lot of the new direct spending provisions seem wasteful and unwise. A number of the significant provisions on electricity fall into the category of unsound policy. So do the many provisions that water down or subvert current environmental laws and standards. My colleagues and I will be describing those problems in more detail when we get around to offering our amendments. Beyond what the conference report draft contains, we must acknowledge that it also is missing some very important pieces that the Senate is on record as supporting as a necessary part of a national energy policy. Let me offer some examples. • Everyone knows that the proponents of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline have concluded that this conference report won’t give them the economic certainty they need to proceed with this important project. So, an estimated 33 trillion cubic feet of natural gas will stay stranded up at Prudhoe Bay, and an estimated 400,000 jobs will not materialize. • The Senate took an innovative approach to reducing our dependence on imported oil earlier this year, when it passed the Landrieu amendment 99-1. That also is missing here. • The conference report also is pretty much status-quo on the use of renewables in our electricity supply. We extend and slightly enhance the renewable production tax credit. But beyond extending what now exists, we don’t make any major new steps to bring renewables into the mainstream of electricity production. A strong majority of the Senate favored a Renewable Portfolio Standard to do that – it’s not here in this report. • The conference report is also silent on the issue of climate change, despite the presence of 3 titles on the subject in the Senate bill. There clearly was overwhelming support in the Senate for the Byrd-Stevens approach and the registry provision in the Senate bill that came into this conference. It’s hard to see why it is not being dealt with here in this conference. So, we are starting out today with a document, that, despite a number of admirable provisions, does not really constitute an adequate national energy policy, when viewed in its totality. Anyone who has been making speeches over the past few years about the fact that our national energy policy is deficient, and we all have, will still be able to give that speech if this report is enacted. Anyone who was worried that a comprehensive energy bill would turn into an open season on our environmental laws will find a lot of evidence to bolster that concern. We will try to offer some amendments today. Our amendments will be offered in a constructive spirit of trying to improve the bill, even at this late date, and even following the flawed process that has gotten us here. Again, thank you for scheduling this meeting. # # #