House Dems to reintroduce their 2006 energy bill

US House Democrats plan to reintroduce the Program for Real Energy Security bill, or PROGRESS, next week to "initiate a robust national program, akin to the Manhattan Project, on energy independence," Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Mar. 1.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 2 -- US House Democrats plan to reintroduce the Program for Real Energy Security bill, or PROGRESS, next week to "initiate a robust national program, akin to the Manhattan Project, on energy independence," Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Mar. 1.

The measure is essentially identical to a bill offered in August following a year of discussions with Democratic caucus members, US Sec. of Energy Samuel W. Bodman, other government officials, academic leaders, and industry executives, he said.

The bill would establish a bipartisan national energy security commission, comprised of government, industry, and academic leaders, to develop "consensus national goals on energy, which Congress must act upon under expedited rules," Hoyer said. It also would establish a "New Manhattan Center for High Efficiency Vehicles," which would seek to double the vehicle efficiency average, and a National Biofuels Infrastructure Development Program, which would provide grants to encourage the private sector to invest in wholesale and retail biofuel pumps, tanks, and related distribution equipment, he added.

Hoyer said the bill calls for a stimulus package to update the freight rail system, which he termed the "'pipeline' for biofuels," while providing grants to promote commuter rail, public transit and other conservation alternatives. Finally, he said, it would increase the use of alternative fuels in federal fleets, which should set an example.

The bill already has 100 cosponsors, Hoyer said. It follows a bill passed as part of the House Democrats' "First 100 hours" agenda 7 weeks ago that attempts to repeal several oil and gas tax incentives and redirect the money toward alternative fuels, renewable energy, conservation, and efficiency programs.

"We must seize the initiative, as past generations of Americans have done, and harness the unique American ingenuity that has made us the world leader in innovation, invention, and technology. If we do, we can achieve real energy independence that strengthens our national security, boosts our economy, creates more jobs, and protects our environment for future generations," Hoyer maintained.

A Republican House energy leader responded coolly to the proposed bill. "The best thing that can be said about the House Democrats' new energy bill is that it does less harm that it might because it abandons the cap-and-trade idea that's all the rage these days," said Joe Barton (R-Tex.), ranking minority member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Doing nothing much isn't much of a solution, though, and an energy bill that leaves Alaskan oil in the ground, doesn't build a nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain, ignores the Outer Continental Shelf, won't get the red tape out of refinery permitting, and snubs coal-to-liquids—well, that isn't much of an energy bill," he continued.

Barton said the proposed bill's greatest value may be as a starting point for real energy legislation, "but we'll need to sort out costs and benefits, see what can be accomplished without forcing people to change the way they live, and figure out how new technologies be made affordable."

He also questioned the need to form another commission or government agency to decide what should be done next. "We already know what needs doing, and as we showed in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, Congress is perfectly able to develop bipartisan, effective energy policies," Barton said.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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