There's more to US energy policy than drilling in Alaska or expanding fuel ethanol production. But both topics have largely overshadowed the public's interest in other industry issues as the US Congress considers the most sweeping energy reform bill in a decade.
The Senate debate has stretched on for months, and no one seems quite sure when or if final legislation can be salvaged before lawmakers go home to campaign for the November elections this fall.
Given that it is an election year, industry lobbyists say legislation to expand fuel ethanol production under the guise of updating clean fuel rules is likely to pass, with or without comprehensive energy legislation. If lawmakers cannot reach consensus on that bill, the clean fuel provision now in the Senate energy bill tripling ethanol fuel use within 10 years is still expected to win approval. The ethanol mandate may be stand-alone legislation, a "rider" onto the pending farm bill, or an add-on to a spending bill that funds the annual federal budget.
Looking beyond debates over leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain and farm-belt politics, Superfund taxes are soon expected to be a legislative battleground for industry. Senate Democratic leaders want to reinstate a tax that expired in 1995 that paid for federal cleanups of toxic waste sites. The Superfund trust fund is running out of money, and attempts to reimpose the tax in the late 1990s were quashed by Congress. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the fund will dwindle to $28 million by Sept. 30, 2003.
Oil companies say they don't want to be stuck with the bill again. According to the American Petroleum Institute, during 1982-96, 74% of the program's funding came from taxes on selected industries. The petroleum industry contributed 57% of those tax revenues, yet its estimated share of the potential liability for cleaning up Superfund sites is less than 10%, API said.
General revenues, rather than industry taxes, should pay for the program's administrative costs and the clean-up of sites where the responsible party or parties cannot be found, according to API: "Funds generated by industry-specific taxes should not be used for these purposes. Reinstating industry-specific taxes is not consistent with congressional intent for the program-that is, whenever possible, polluters should pay for the costs of cleaning up the releases for which they are found."
Over in the House, Democrats also are on the move.
On Mar. 23, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced legislation, HR 4060, which renews Superfund taxes for 5 years.
Other industry trade groups, including the Petroleum Marketers Association of America and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America, say House Democrats plan to use the legislation as a way to leverage more spending for Superfund during the 2003 fiscal year.
Pallone's legislation also calls for a 5-year renewal of funding for EPA's Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust (LUST) Fund. The LUST Fund tax is due to begin phasing out in 2008.