Foreign Policy Blogs

Santa's Early Gifts for Renewables and Energy Efficiency

Dems Reach Deal on Energy Bill is the headline from A.P. this morning. What’s in? A 40% boost in the CAFE standards for the automakers and a 15% renewable portfolio standard for the utilities. What’s out? It appears that the rescission of the $16 billion tax breaks presently being enjoyed by the oil and gas industry is out. Other provisions, as noted over the past several months here, include a big boost on energy efficiency, a closer look at “smart grids,” expansion of biofuels, and some other good provisions. (See Quick Update on Energy Bills, And the Winner Is , and Federal Energy Legislation, among other posts going back to June.)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement late last night after the negotiations were successfully concluded. “CAFE will serve as the cornerstone of the energy legislation that will be on the House floor next week,” said Pelosi. Energy and Commerce Committee Chair, John Dingell, referring to the CAFE standards, said in his statement: ” I believe the agreement reached today prescribes standards that are both aggressive and attainable.”

With agreement by the key Democrats in both houses of Congress, the A.P. article notes that “the legislation, while criticized by most Republicans, is expected to have smooth sailing.” The deal breaker for the White House would have been pulling back the $16 billion tax break for Big Oil and Gas, so the Congressional leadership opted not to have the perfect be the enemy of the good. Frustrating perhaps to many of us, but probably wise in the end.

I want to celebrate this victory, but I also want to fully note that this country could do so much better if certain special interests didn’t have undue clout on the Hill. Back in June when the tax rescission was defeated in the Senate version of the legislation, the Energy Committee Chair, Jeff Bingaman said: “Oil companies earned $111 billion in profits last year and at that rate stand to earn $1 trillion over the 10 years covered by the tax package” rejecting suggestions that “”this is an undue burden’ on oil companies.” An A.P. story around the same time quoted Majority Leader Harry Reid: “”Big Oil seems to do pretty well here on Capitol Hill,’ Reid told reporters, making no effort to hide his sarcasm.”

Meanwhile, in Scotland, as just one example where others have much higher aspirations than we do because they are not being held back by special interests, “Ministers want 31% of Scotland’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2011. And they have set a target of 50% of all electricity from renewables by 2020,” according to the “Press Association” here.  Scotland 50%, the U.S. 15%.  Notice any disparity?

There are miles to go before we sleep, or at least before we get to a zero carbon world.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change