The Bush Plan: Low Energy

Is there anything we can do to stop the Bush administration from issuing the same fraudulent energy bill year after year? The House of Representatives has twice passed this bouquet to big fossil-fuel companies, in 2003 and 2004, only to have it fail in the Senate. But Congressional Republicans, back from Christmas vacation, are emboldened by last November’s victory and they think it will slip through the upper chamber, essentially unchanged.

And why shouldn’t big energy companies get the policy they paid for? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) last May, “Since 1999, 30 power companies that own the nation’s dirtiest power plants have raised $6.6 million for President Bush and the Republican National Committee. Executives at 10 of these utilities raised at least $100,000 or $200,000 each, earning them the honor of being named to the President’s list of “Pioneers” or “Rangers,” respectively. These top fundraisers for the President include executives at FirstEnergy Corp. ($865,877), Southern Co. ($807,062), TXU ($754,898), Dominion ($679,105), Centerpoint (formerly Reliant) Energy ($539,900), Cinergy Corp ($431,722), Exelon ($404,856), Edison Electric Institute ($348,750), Dynergy Inc. ($311,382) and Edison International ($192,291). Collectively, these top 10 industry fundraisers have raised $1.5 million over the last five years.”

Public Citizen calls the previous version of the House bill, H.R. 6, “an irresponsible, regressive bill that points in the wrong direction. By repealing vital electricity consumer protections, this flawed legislation allows for the expansion of deregulation and more Enron-style schemes. The bill also encourages nuclear irresponsibility by offering public funds and other incentives for developing new reactors, promoting nuclear waste reprocessing, and extending liability protections for nuclear plant operators. This legislation does virtually nothing to decrease oil consumption in this country and promote renewable energies.”

A coalition of environmental groups, including Sierra Club, U.S. PIRG, Environmental Defense, the Wilderness Society and the Union of Concerned Scientists, put together a concise summary of the bill’s provisions. It would:

"Exempt all oil and gas construction activities—including roads, drill pads, pipeline corridors and refineries—from having to obtain a permit controlling polluted stormwater runoff caused by construction activities, as is currently required under the Clean Water Act.
" Dramatically increase air pollution and global warming with huge new incentives for burning coal, oil and gas.
"Threaten drinking water sources by exempting from Safe Drinking Water Act regulation the underground injection of chemicals during oil and gas development.
"Allow more smog pollution for longer than the current Clean Air Act authorizes.
"Establish an “Office of Federal Project Coordination” within the White House to expedite the permitting and completion of energy projects on federal lands and override environmental safeguards.
"Continue to promote development of all Outer Continental Shelf lands—including sensitive protected lands and, potentially, national marine sanctuaries—through two poorly defined studies.
"Repeal the Public Utility Holding Company Act, the main law protecting consumers from market manipulation, fraud and abuse in the electricity sector, even while evidence of corrupt industry behavior is front-page news and ratepayers are owed billions to compensate for the industry’s illegal activities.
"Mandate the siting of a high-voltage electricity transmission line through the Cleveland National Forest in southern California and other public lands, overriding a decision by the State of California.

And all this in the name of ensuring reliable sources of energy for the U.S.! The conservative Heritage Foundation doesn’t even like the Bush approach, criticizing an earlier version of the bill because it “fails to adequately increase domestic energy supplies, promote fuel diversity or stabilize prices.”

Of course, one of Heritage’s big problems with the bill is that it doesn’t contain a provision for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Sending oil spewing all over this last-ditch caribou habitat is a sacred goal of movement conservatives, who claim it contains “more then twice the proven reserves in all of Texas.” But there’s far-north red meat in the bill, anyway: It authorizes leasing of the entire National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska for oil and gas production without protection for wildlife or native hunting and fishing.

But even if it isn’t in the energy bill, drilling in ANWR will probably make it through the Senate this year. According to MSNBC’s Miguel Llanos, “A review of the positions of the nine incoming freshmen senators, as well as the senators they replace, indicates that Republicans would have at least 51 votes for drilling in a small part of the refuge. And by attaching it to a budget bill that Democrats can’t filibuster, Republicans hope to have it all wrapped up by June.” The public disapproves of ANWR drilling by a wide margin, but that isn’t likely to deter the Senate.

This so-called energy bill contains no important conservation measures, and actually makes it more difficult for Congress to set federal CAFE fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. Carmakers will continue to get CAFE credits for producing “dual fuel” vehicles that can run on natural gas or ethanol—but almost never do.

A version of this travesty may very well make it through the Senate this year. It almost made it in November of 2003, when a more “liberal” Congress was seated. It’s important to know how your Senator voted, and do what you can to keep him or her in line. Here’s what happened then, with a “yea” vote indicating support for the legislation:

Grouped by Home State:

Alabama:Sessions (R-AL), Yea/Shelby (R-AL), Yea
Alaska:Murkowski (R-AK), Yea/Stevens (R-AK), Yea
Arizona:Kyl (R-AZ), Yea/McCain (R-AZ), Nay
Arkansas:Lincoln (D-AR), Yea/Pryor (D-AR), Yea
California:Boxer (D-CA), Nay/Feinstein (D-CA), Nay
Colorado:Allard (R-CO), Yea/Campbell (R-CO), Yea
Connecticut:Dodd (D-CT), Nay/Lieberman (D-CT), Nay
Delaware:Biden (D-DE), Nay/Carper (D-DE), Nay
Florida:Graham (D-FL), Nay/Nelson (D-FL), Nay
Georgia:Chambliss (R-GA), Yea/Miller (D-GA), Yea
Hawaii:Akaka (D-HI), Nay/Inouye (D-HI), Nay
Idaho:Craig (R-ID), Yea/Crapo (R-ID), Yea
Illinois:Durbin (D-IL), Nay/Fitzgerald (R-IL), Yea
Indiana:Bayh (D-IN), Nay/Lugar (R-IN), Yea
Iowa:Grassley (R-IA), Yea/Harkin (D-IA), Yea
Kansas:Brownback (R-KS), Yea/Roberts (R-KS), Yea
Kentucky:Bunning (R-KY), Yea/McConnell (R-KY), Yea
Louisiana:Breaux (D-LA), Yea/Landrieu (D-LA), Yea
Maine:Collins (R-ME), Nay/Snowe (R-ME), Nay
Maryland:Mikulski (D-MD), Nay/Sarbanes (D-MD), Nay
Massachusetts:Kennedy (D-MA), Nay/Kerry (D-MA), Not Voting
Michigan:Levin (D-MI), Nay/Stabenow (D-MI), Nay
Minnesota:Coleman (R-MN), Yea/Dayton (D-MN), Yea
Mississippi:Cochran (R-MS), Yea/Lott (R-MS), Yea
Missouri:Bond (R-MO), Yea/Talent (R-MO), Yea
Montana:Baucus (D-MT), Yea/Burns (R-MT), Yea
Nebraska:Hagel (R-NE), Yea/Nelson (D-NE), Yea
Nevada:Ensign (R-NV), Yea/Reid (D-NV), Nay
New Hampshire:Gregg (R-NH), Nay/Sununu (R-NH), Nay
New Jersey:Corzine (D-NJ),

Nay/Lautenberg (D-NJ), Nay
New Mexico:Bingaman (D-NM), Nay/Domenici (R-NM), Yea
New York:Clinton (D-NY), Nay/Schumer (D-NY), Nay
North Carolina:Dole (R-NC), Yea/Edwards (D-NC), Not Voting
North Dakota:Conrad (D-ND), Yea/Dorgan (D-ND), Yea
Ohio:DeWine (R-OH), Yea/Voinovich (R-OH), Yea
Oklahoma:Inhofe (R-OK), Yea/Nickles (R-OK), Yea
Oregon:Smith (R-OR), Yea/Wyden (D-OR), Nay
Pennsylvania:Santorum (R-PA), Yea/Specter (R-PA), Yea
Rhode Island:Chafee (R-RI), Nay/Reed (D-RI), Nay
South Carolina:Graham (R-SC), Yea/Hollings (D-SC), Not Voting
South Dakota:Daschle (D-SD), Yea/Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Tennessee:Alexander (R-TN), Yea/Frist (R-TN), Nay
Texas:Cornyn (R-TX), Yea/Hutchison (R-TX), Yea
Utah:Bennett (R-UT), Yea/Hatch (R-UT), Yea
Vermont:Jeffords (I-VT), Nay/Leahy (D-VT), Nay
Virginia:Allen (R-VA), Yea/Warner (R-VA), Yea
Washington:Cantwell (D-WA), Nay/Murray (D-WA), Nay
West Virginia:Byrd (D-WV), Nay/Rockefeller (D-WV), Nay
Wisconsin:Feingold (D-WI), Nay/Kohl (D-WI), Nay
Wyoming:Enzi (R-WY), Yea/Thomas (R-WY), Yea

A much saner alternative to H.R. 6 and its ilk is the “Electric Reliability Security Act of 2003” (S.1754),sponsored by Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) and co-sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). S. 1754 actually encourages energy conservation and provides multiple provisions to guard against another wide-ranging blackout like the 2003 event in the Northeast. But with the Bush administration riding high and the coalition behind Vice President Cheney’s secret energy meetings virtually running the government, S. 1754 is not likely to make much progress.