Just What You Were Hoping For: High Gasoline Prices Generate Lots of Congressional Response
Ready for Off-Coast Drilling? (FYI: Jeb Bush Isn't.)
From Washington Post Reports.
Asked what he hoped to achieve during the current session of Congress,
Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, had a
simple answer: nothing.
U.S. policy regarding ethanol, whose makers his association
represents, was just where he wanted it to be. The Energy Policy Act
of 2005 had set minimum targets for ethanol use going out to 2012,
spurring financing for new ethanol refineries and transportation
projects from Iowa to northern New Jersey. All he wanted to do was
hold the line.
Now Dinneen is scrambling to hold that line amid a flurry of new
congressional proposals and lobbying from his association's business
rivals. Just a few months ago, no one predicted another frenzy over
energy legislation. For his first four years in office, President Bush
had talked in vain about getting energy legislation through Congress.
When the 1,724-page bill finally passed last summer, it wasn't
everything that energy interest groups wanted -- but most lobbyists
figured that was that.
Now, thanks to soaring oil prices, lawmakers feel pressed to act again
and the possibilities for new legislation -- or undoing the last one
-- seem endless. This time there isn't a single energy bill, but more
than a dozen bits of legislation in different committees. Taken
together, they could have a major impact on energy policy, including
many emotional issues for environmental and consumer groups, and on
specific companies and industries.
"There was a lot left on the table after the Energy Policy Act because
we didn't have time," said Donna Harman, vice president for
congressional affairs at the American Forest and Paper Association,
whose members are major energy consumers. But, she said, after the
hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana, "energy price spikes brought
people's attention back to the issue and we saw the ground shifting."
The new energy proposals aren't limited to the House's and Senate's
energy committees; they also appear before the appropriations,
science, agriculture and judiciary committees. They include items such
as a Senate clause in the Maritime Renewal Act that would give the
Massachusetts governor veto power over a wind power project off Cape
Cod; a proposal about coal deliveries in the Railroad Competition Act;
an end to royalty breaks for offshore oil drilling in deep water; $18
million in prizes in a House science committee measure to reward
people who come up with novel ideas for hydrogen vehicle technologies;
all the money Bush requested for alternative energy projects, though
$130 million less than he wanted for his Global Nuclear Energy Plan;
and incentives for the construction of new refineries. The full House
next week will also consider a bill that would give Bush clearer
authority over setting car mileage standards and direct him to come up
with new ones before leaving office.
One of the bigger battles came to a head on Thursday night over just
two words in the House version of the Interior Department's
appropriations bill. At stake with those two words: an end to the
24-year-old ban on natural gas drilling on the Outer Continental
Rep. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.) had deleted the words "natural gas" from
the extension of the ban on oil and natural gas drilling, but by a
narrow 217-203 margin, the House voted to adopt language sponsored by
House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) and
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) to cover drilling for natural gas as well
Many of the nation's largest manufacturers and agricultural groups had
lined up in favor of the Peterson language, which they said would help
increase domestic natural gas supplies and bring down costs. "The
business of chemicals, in addition to energy and power, we use natural
gas as a feedstock," said Jack Gerard, president of the American
Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry.
Gerard and other industry representatives make a point of translating
that into language politicians understand: jobs and voters. Gerard
blames high natural gas costs for contributing to the loss of 100,000
jobs in recent years. Leon Corzine, chairman of the National Corn
Growers Association, said that between fertilizers, drying and
irrigation, natural gas could raise costs by $100 an acre or $75,000
for a family farm. "That could be the difference between profit and
loss," he said.
On some issues, industry takes opposite sides. In May, Dinneen found
himself being grilled by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman
Joe Barton (R-Tex.) about whether Congress should lift the
54-cent-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Dinneen says that lifting
the tariff would have a "chilling effect on the investment community"
and hurt the expansion of the domestic ethanol production and refining
industry. Other supporters of the tariff say that Brazil doesn't make
enough ethanol to export any significant quantities to the United
States, and that some can be imported now from Caribbean Basin
But petroleum refiners, as well as consumer groups, say that
eliminating the tariff would help lower prices. At the hearing before
Barton, Bob Slaughter, head of the National Petrochemical and Refiners
Association, said that Dinneen had "painted a picture of an industry
that does not need . . . a tariff barrier."
It remains to be seen whether all the bills will match last year's
legislation, which had tax breaks for everything from oil drilling to
hybrid cars to nuclear plants, and repealed a 70-year-old landmark
piece of utility legislation, among other things. And whether this
year's efforts will add up to a coherent energy policy is doubtful,
but lawmakers are eager to go on record as having tried to do
something, and that spells opportunity for many interest groups.
Industry isn't the only type of group weighing in on energy
legislation. Pressure from consumers and groups critical of the oil
industry's profits also helped generate overwhelming House support on
Thursday night for a measure that would pressure oil companies to
renegotiate hundreds of leases.
Environmental and consumer groups are also lobbying. "We are elated,"
Sierra Club's executive director Carl Pope said about the continued
moratorium on drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. "We can look
under every rock and every grain of sand in the U.S. and still not be
able to drill our way to lower energy prices."