Democrats put global warming at center of energy plans

Jan. 8, 2007
In their first day back in charge, US Senate Democrats said they intend to aggressively address global climate change by developing energy alternatives to oil, gas, and coal; by improving energy efficiency; and by shifting tax incentives from traditional energy sources to emerging technologies.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 8 -- In their first day back in charge, US Senate Democrats said they intend to aggressively address global climate change by developing energy alternatives to oil, gas, and coal; by improving energy efficiency; and by shifting tax incentives from traditional energy sources to emerging technologies.

"For too long, our country's energy policy has had only one concern: oil company profits," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said on Jan. 4 as he described S. 6, one of 10 bills Democrats introduced on a range of issues.

Officially designated the National Energy and Environmental Security Act of 2007, S. 6 calls for reducing US dependence on foreign oil and the risks of global warming by "requiring reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases; diversifying and expanding the use of secure, efficient, and environmentally friendly energy supplies and technologies; reducing the burdens on consumers of rising energy prices; eliminating tax giveaways to large energy companies; and preventing energy price-gouging, profiteering, and market manipulation."

Reid noted that the bill aims to promote US energy independence and enhance domestic security so the country "can begin to deal with the threat—the threat—of global warming." He said he and five other senators were reminded of this the previous week during visits to several South American countries when they were told that Ecuador's glaciers are melting.

"So in an effort to begin to solve this energy crisis, our sixth bill takes an aggressive approach to reducing America's dependence on oil, especially foreign oil, and putting more advanced technologies in the hands of consumers," he said. "It will boost production of electricity from solar, geothermal, and other renewable resources that are abundant in states such as Nevada, and it will grow our nation's renewable energy jobs and manufacturing base."

Bingaman elaborates
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (NM) offered more specific ideas as he elaborated on S. 6's goals.

To reduce US dependence on foreign energy sources, he said, the measure would maintain domestic production; tighten vehicle fuel-economy standards; encourage development of renewable fuels, "particularly biofuels"; and consider new motor vehicle technologies that can reduce gasoline consumption.

Bingaman said reductions of greenhouse gas emissions will be addressed by Senate committees other than his. But he added that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee expects to play a major part because "over 95% of the US carbon dioxide emissions and nearly 85% of all US greenhouse gas emissions come from energy production, distribution, and use."

The legislation also will include measures to encourage the use of energy-efficient light bulbs and to assure full funding of energy-relief programs for low-income families.

On oil and gas taxation, Bingaman asserted that the US offers one of the world's most favorable fiscal regime for oil and gas production and pointed to "big problems" in federal royalty management. He was referring to offshore leases issued in 1998-99 without price thresholds, which cap deepwater royalty relief in leases issued in other years.

"We will be examining how to rebalance the system, both from the perspective of having fair and effective royalty and tax policies for oil and gas and from the perspective of having effective tax and other incentives to promote other forms of energy, such as production of electricity from wind solar, geothermal, and renewable sources," Bingaman said.

He said energy and environmental issues probably will be addressed in multiple bills.

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (Calif.) said Reid's remarks on S. 6 sent a signal "to all of us here, both sides of the aisle, that we are going to put the environmental issue back front and center, and we are going to put the energy issue front and center, and we are going to do everything we can do to become energy-independent and to preserve this planet for future generations."

Will of leadership
Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) said tackling energy and environmental issues will not be as difficult as solving problems such as health care.

"The only thing lacking, really, has been the will of the leadership of America to move forward to get us to that energy independence," he said.

"We ought not to be in a position where the national sovereignty and security of this nation is held hostage to the whims of the Middle East and those who happen to have oil wealth under their sands," Salazar declared. On another topic he said, "We will find economic opportunity, including economic opportunity for rural America, to help us grow our way to energy independence."

House approach
In the House, Democrats also signaled some of their energy and environmental approaches for the months ahead.

Jay Inslee (Wash.) said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), in earlier remarks, "made a commitment to the country that our nation would start a titanic and historic shift from old technologies associated with fossil fuels that are now putting massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and towards the use of new technologies that can produce our mode of power for our cars and our planes and our buses and our homes and our computers and even our hair dryers in a way that does not contribute to global warming."

Achieving these results, he said, will require repealing "some of the less prudent activities of the former Congress that gave $7 billion of taxpayer money to the oil and gas industry, a very imprudent move, an industry that is in tip-top form financially."

Inslee said incentives that the industry received could be moved to "a pool of funds that will be used to develop new high-tech, clean energy sources that we can go forward to build energy independence and reduce our contributions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are contributing to global warming."

Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].