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SPECIAL UPDATE: Senate Debates the Energy Policy Act

(Posted 7-28-03)


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

(Note: Subsequently, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) brokered a deal under which this year's energy bill, S. 14, was traded for the bill that passed the Senate last year during the previous Congress (S. 517) when Democrats controlled the chamber. For more on the outcome of the Senate debate, see an AGI special web update at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy_senatefinal.html.)

IN A NUTSHELL: With the House already in recess for August, the Senate is spending a final week debating energy legislation. Nearly 400 amendments are being considered, and seven major issues have emerged: corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) standards, climate change, renewable portfolio standards, Indian energy development, hydropower relicensing reform, tax incentives and electricity deregulation. If the Senate reaches agreement on these issues and passes a bill, a conference will then be held in the fall to work out differences with the comprehensive energy bill, H.R. 6, passed by the House in April. The Bush administration, which made energy policy a priority from the outset, is eager to see Congress complete its work on this legislation. With a number of key issues affecting geoscientists, the Senate debate offers an opportunity to provide input at a crucial time.

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Early in the current Bush administration, the president asked Vice President Dick Cheney to assemble a task force and report on the state of energy policy in America. The task force made more than 100 recommendations in the president’s National Energy Policy (http://www.whitehouse.gov/energy/). Most of these recommendations could be carried out by executive orders and federal agency actions, but the most far-reaching of them required congressional action. Over the past two years, the House and Senate have each passed their own version of comprehensive energy legislation; however, since they have failed to reach an overall agreement, no energy bill has become law.

In the 108th Congress, the House passed its version, H.R. 6, on April 11th. Their work on this issue done, the House has recessed until September, but the Senate is spending a final week of floor debate on S. 14, the Energy Policy Act of 2003. Introduced by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), S. 14 passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, by a vote of 13-10 on April 30th. The committee hearings and mark-up on this legislation were less bitter and divided along partisan lines than those of previous years because Chairman Domenici decided that the committee would leave several of the most contentious issues to be hashed out on the Senate floor.

Reflecting the contentiousness that surrounds this issue, there are currently 392 amendments proposed for S. 14. Of that total, energy committee staff director Alex Flint told E&E Daily, there are only "70 to 100 real amendments" and seven major issues that must be debated. Those seven are corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) standards, climate change, renewable portfolio standards, Indian energy development, hydropower relicensing reform, tax incentives and electricity deregulation. Several of these issues have potential impacts on the geoscience community:

  • CAFÉ standards were hotly debated on the Senate floor last year and, ultimately, the Senate did not decide to improve the standards but instead asked the Department of Transportation to study the issue and propose new standards. There are several amendments that will address this issue.
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) attempted to address the climate change issue during the committee mark-up by introducing an amendment on carbon sequestration, but withdrew it on the urging of Domenici. According to E&E Daily, Wyden criticized the committee for "ducking" climate change in favor of quick committee passage and vowed to re-propose the amendment on the Senate floor. His amendment is one of several on this topic.
  • Renewable Portfolio Standards ensure that all energy marketers have a certain percentage of renewable energy sources in their mix. This approach could encourage expanded geothermal energy production and hence exploration for geothermal energy resources.
  • The tax incentives vary in type, scope and amount. The Senate is again looking to strike a balance between measures promoting fossil fuel production, nuclear power, energy efficiency and alternative (including renewable) fuels.

A wrap-up of last year's Senate debate on these major issues can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/energy_update0502.html. For an overview on energy policy developments in the current Congress, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy.html. And for additional perspective on the energy policy debate, see the May 2003 Geotimes Political Scene column "Congress Takes Another Stab at Energy Legislation" at http://www.agiweb.org/geotimes/may03/scene.html.

The text of S. 14 can be viewed on the Library of Congress's Thomas web site at
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:S.14: and a list of amendments under consideration is at
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:SN00014:@@@S.
In addition, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is maintaining a web page with a fairly updated list of amendments and additional information on the bill at http://energy.senate.gov/legislation/energybill2003/energybill2003.cfm.

An Opportunity for Input

Typically, at this point in the legislative process, the major negotiations on a particular bill and its provisions have already taken place and the bill is going to the floor for a yes-or-no vote. However, with S. 14, the biggest issues will be decided on the floor and the bill will take shape over the next few days. This unusual situation gives constituents an additional, some would say golden, opportunity to affect the process. Please call, fax, or email your senators this week to let them know your opinion about the pending energy legislation or any of the proposed amendments.

The U.S. Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 will connect you to your senators’ office. E-mail addresses can be found at
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

If you have any questions that we can help with, please contact Emily Lehr at eml@agiweb.org or 703 379 2480 x212.

Update prepared by Emily M. Lehr and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: Congressional Research Service, Environment & Energy Daily, Green-energy.org, National Journal Group, Inc.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted July 28, 2003; Revised August 18, 2003