Season of Giving – and Passing Key Legislation

January 1, 2008 By    

Perhaps December really is the season of miracles. For the first time in more than 30 years, Congress has passed and the president has approved an increase in the corporate average fuel economy standard (CAFÉ) as part of the new energy law. Congress approved the measure overwhelmingly – 314-100 in the House and 88-6 in the Senate.

Lisa Bontempo
Lisa Bontempo

The CAFÉ increase raises the standard across fleets (for passenger cars and light duty trucks) to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Significantly, environmentalists and others were joined by automakers as part of a coalition supporting the final negotiations led by Detroit Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

In addition, the new law includes efficiency standards for light bulbs, federal building and other conservation provisions aimed at reducing U.S. energy use by about 7 percent by 2030, according to bill supporters.

It also includes a significant mandate for refiners to produce renewable fuels. Specifically, the mandate requires refiners to produce 15 billion gallons of ethanol from corn by 2015 and 21 billion gallons of ethanol from advanced biofuels and plants by 2022. Opponents fear this mandate will ultimately increase food costs and force refiners to pass costs on to consumers if the refiners cannot meet the requirements and be forced to buy credits.

The bill that was signed into law did not include two major provisions widely, and deeply, supported by the environmental community. With the president’s veto looming, Senate Democratic leaders decided to drop their package of tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency that would have been largely paid by a repeal of tax incentives for the oil and gas industries. To the disappointment of supporters of solar, wind and other alternative fuels, a hard-fought mandate requiring investor-owned utilities to produce up to 15 percent of their electricity from renewable fuels by 2020 also was dropped.

Even before the president’s signature dried on the bill, supporters of these renewable and efficiency provisions were calling for Congress to pass these energy measures as early as possible. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has signaled his interest to do so; Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Pelosi have expressed interest also. One possibility under consideration is to tie the measures to climate change legislation being discussed in Congress.

Looking ahead to her election year agenda for 2008, Speaker Pelosi recently highlighted priorities that include an effort to move a cap-and-trade bill to address greenhouse gas emissions and passing renewable energy standards.

Some supporters of the new law are calling it a real opportunity to go “beyond petroleum” and clear the way for new technologies in a way our country never has before. Opponents point out that the technology is not available and that the bill does nothing to promote domestic production of oil and gas.

On the same day President Bush signed the bill into law, calling it “a major step … toward reducing our dependence on oil, fighting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels and giving future generations a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure,” Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) was looking to the future, too.

In a speech in Washington, Lugar, a respected member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said the “defining test of the next president” will be if he or she has the will to help develop the technology to wean energy users away from fossil fuels. If that truly is the goal, then this newly passed bill is merely a baby step in that direction.

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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