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Graphic Element, Right Gutter

US Congress: New Energy Bill Actually an Environmental Bill

Who knew?

If last week's bill-signing event was any indication, President Bush is awfully proud of the new energy bill legislation, which was labeled "not easily distinguished from corruption", by conservative George Will. Meanwhile, the US Senate's description of the bill (click here) is surprisingly green: recognizing America’s need for reduced foreign oil dependence, lower gas prices, strong global warming provisions and energy conservation.

The legislation confronts these needs by rewarding the nuclear and oil industries.

Nuclear power is in the midst of a comeback. Even some environmental leaders (like Stewart Brand) are now open to it. Yet, after 50 years, nuclear has never been able to establish that it is cost-effective, given its dependence on government subsidies. The feds are giving the industry over $14 billion in subsidies in this round of energy and tax bills. Not even counting those dollars, the energy bill contains unlimited taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for the construction of new reactors and extends the industry’s limited liability in the case of an accident to new reactors. (Disclosure: Better World President Mitch Rofsky lobbied Congress to oppose subsidizing the industry's insurance expense by limiting liability when he worked for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.)

Now have come revelations about data falsification in analyses of the proposed Yucca Mountain dumpsite in addition to other numerous unresolved safety problems at the sites. And reports by the National Academy of Sciences and the Government Accountability Office pointing out security vulnerabilities of the highly radioactive waste stored at reactor sites. These are the latest indicators that the industry still hasn’t resolved its waste disposal issue either.

Not to be outdone, however, is the oil industry, which also stands to gain enormous benefits from the pending energy bill, including a buffet of subsidies and tax breaks. One of its newer ventures is in liquefied natural gas, which is natural gas super-cooled into a liquid form to more easily transport natural gas to the United States from destinations not linked by pipeline. (For example, importing natural gas from Indonesia, Nigeria or Norway by tanker, for example.)

Not only does the energy bill limit the ability of states and local communities to have adequate say in how potentially dangerous, proposed liquefied natural gas facilities are sited, but it encourages making the United States more dependent on foreign sources of energy, particularly OPEC, which dominates the global LNG market. There’s a good idea. The bill also subsidizes coal-fired power plants, seeking the construction of 100 such facilities over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, renewable energy came up short--unless you consider ethanol your favorite form of renewable. (There's is an argument that ethanol uses more energy to produce than it saves.) Ethanol received the bulk of renewable energy funding. This is not to say that the nearly $3 billion left for other renewables is nothing, it just pales by comparison.

It is unlikely that an energy bill could be confused with eco-legislation when the oil and nuclear energy has donated $90 million to Congressional candidates since 2001. George Will, at least, perceives that they got their money’s worth.