Mirroring debate during 2008

March 1, 2008 By    

In a presidential election year, the congressional agenda often follows the candidates’ agendas. Their supporters in Congress introduce legislation and/or engage in debates that support the candidates’ positions. Nearly all the debate that happens in Congress during a presidential election year reflects the broader debate.

Lisa Bontempo
Lisa Bontempo

For the energy industry, this means highlighting high energy costs and the current economic downturn and its impact. Energy companies’ record-making profits and executives’ multi-million dollar earnings will be used in Congress as debating points and opportunities to introduce legislation, and by the candidates as talking points in the race.

What makes this year even more interesting, and potentially confusing, is that so late in the nomination process the Democrats have not settled on a nominee. While the GOP has settled on the nominee, some in his party are not sure he’s the “right” guy.

Especially for the Democrats, energy legislation continues to be a priority, and climate, energy and tax bills continue to be discussed in the Democratic-led Congress. Of interest for the propane industry, certain items will likely make their way into the talking points for candidates on the campaign trail this summer.

The recently passed, bipartisan supported economic stimulus bill will be touted as a major achievement in Congress, even as economists debate its merits for the economy. President Bush signed into law $152 billion worth of rebates for Americans and new tax breaks for businesses.

What the law didn’t include was an increase for lower-income Americans to help pay their heating bills. State energy officials concerned about the high costs of heating oil and propane tried to get the House and Senate to include more than $3 billion to increase funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, called for increased funding to help address growing energy prices and an increase in households asking for assistance.

Wolfe notes between 2004 and 2007, the number of households helped through LIHEAP grew from 4.8 million to 5.8 million, representing only 16 percent of the 34 million eligible households. In the face of White House opposition, the House of Representatives dropped its effort to include funding in the stimulus package, and the Senate was not successful in including funding for home heating, energy tax credits or national infrastructure needs.

State energy officials also are fighting attempts to cut 2009 LIHEAP funding as the administration is proposing. In his 2009 budget request to Congress, Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman called for $1.7 billion, down from $2 billion, to fund LIHEAP.

Bodman’s budget request also calls for doubling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels of oil at the same time some Democrats are calling for the federal government to release some of the oil to address high energy prices.

Citing the need to protect the country from risk of a supply disruption and recent Energy Department studies, Bodman countered that the strategic petroleum reserves are “less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the oil used in the world every day” and has no “meaningful” impact on oil prices.

Even though environmental and energy issues remain an important issue for Democrats this election year, environmentalists and renewable energy supporters are growing concerned that time is running out on the Democrats’ congressional agenda.

Lisa Bontempo was a longtime energy lobbyist, including 13 years with NPGA. She remains involved in national politics, and can be reached at

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