August 26, 2008

Energy Legislation at Last?

Bill Georgevich reporting

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Despite many efforts to pass an energy package, Congress adjourned for summer recess gridlocked and empty-handed. Partisan compromise is essential if we will ever see any real energy legislation. Republicans must give up oil industry tax breaks and Democrats need to budge on the offshore drilling ban. A bi-partisan group of 10 Senators, days before adjourning last month for summer recess, wrote a compromise bill that does just that.

The New Energy Reform Act of 2008 was written in response to the months-long Senate deadlock on energy legislation. The legislation, which could be considered when Congress returns in September, includes limited offshore drilling with increased investment in new energy technologies. A portion of the finding for renewables would come from taking back tax breaks from the oil industry. The bill also sets a goal of fueling 85 percent of the country's automobiles with alternatives to oil within 20 years.

The upside:
  • co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group committed to breaking the energy legislation gridlock in Congress
  • closes tax loopholes for the oil industry
  • maintains the ban on offshore drilling in California
  • extends renewable energy tax incentives that will expire in December
  • invests $20 billion for the conversion of cars and trucks to non-oil fuel sources
  • garnering wide support from liberal democrats, moderates, and Republicans

The downside:
  • permits offshore drilling in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast (by states' consent)
  • recycling of spent nuclear fuel

Given the many bones of contention between the two parties, it is imperative to accept that a compromise coming from both sides of the aisle is the only solution to the impasse. Republicans need to give in on oil industry tax loopholes so that the renewable energy tax credits can be paid for. Democrats need to budge on their intractable stance on offshore drilling.

This bill was written just before Congress adjourned in early August. We hope that our Senators give serious attention to this bill when they return on September 4.

August 18, 2008

Countdown to Energy Reform

Bill Georgevich reporting

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This week we begin our Countdown to Energy Reform. While Congress enjoys their August recess, many Americans are wondering, where are the solutions to our energy issues? Despite multiple efforts to pass energy legislation, the Senate has been intractably gridlocked. Time is running out. Essential renewable energy tax credits will expire in December. Join us in our weekly call to action as we contact our vacationing Senators every week until they reconvene in September. This week: send a letter to Senators Obama and McCain.

Congress went on recess in early August without passing any energy legislation. Despite multiple efforts, both the House and Senate danced around the crucial issues of gas prices, offshore drilling, oil-market speculation, and the clean energy tax credits that are expiring in December.

The clean energy tax credits are especially important, because as December draws nearer, more and more investors in various renewable energy projects are getting cold feet. Many have pulled out entirely or are threatening to do so if the extension doesn't happen. Failure to renew these tax credits will be disastrous for our country and the steady momentum towards clean energy that has been taking hold.

Obama and McCain have remained rather detached in Senate activities related to renewable energy legislation. Both were among only a few to abstain on a vote to get a bill that would renew clean energy tax credits on the floor for debate. And both have shown some allegiance to the big oil industry that so handsomely finances their presidential campaigns. In 2005, Obama voted for an energy bill backed by Bush that included billions in subsidies for oil and natural gas production. In June of this year, in the weeks following McCain's embrace of offshore oil drilling, contributions from the oil and gas industry poured in ($1 million, in fact, compared to $116 K in March, $283 K in April and $208 K in May).

When the Senate reconvenes on September 4, they will be greeted with a new, bi-partisan energy bill, the first to offer a compromise to the wide philosophical and political schism that has prevented any passage of renewable energy tax credits. The New Energy Reform Act of 2008 is very promising, and couldn't come a moment too soon.

Obama has shown support of the bill, in recognition of the hope that it will end "partisan gridlock and special interest influence" and bring to the Senate "a good faith effort at a new bipartisan beginning."

McCain has remained very quiet about the bill, but most likely will not support it, for at least 2 reasons: one, the bill will take away subsidies for the oil and gas industry, which McCain adamantly wants to keep in place; and two, the bill allows for very limited offshore oil drilling (none at all off the California coast). Learn more about the bill here.

And if you haven't already, we invite you again to send a letter to Senators Obama and McCain on the very important and timely matter of energy policy.


August 1, 2008

Turning Oil Fields into Wind Farms

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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An unlikely Texas oilman – none other than the legendary T. Boone Pickens -- has announced plans to build the biggest wind farm in the world. His $10 billion dollar project will produce enough electricity to power an entire city. To date, he has put $2 billion into the project, including a record purchase of nearly 700 wind turbines from General Electric. He expects to begin generating electricity in 2011.

Pickens is not the only Texan to recognize the virtues of wind as an energy source. In recent years the oil capital of North America has emerged as the country's largest producer of wind power. In the little town of Sweetwater, up in the Texas Panhandle, wind turbines are going up at a rate of three to four a day. Some say the number of turbines in Sweetwater could top out eventually around 20,000.

Nearby Nolan County, if it were a country unto itself, would rank sixth on a list of wind-energy-producing nations in the world. It currently produces more wind-generated electricity in a year than all of California. Click on the graph for a fascinating state by state comparison of wind power.

Pickens is quick to note that "there could be lots of Sweetwaters out there," especially through the Midwest corridor stretching from Texas to North Dakota, where big wind and lots of empty space are ideal for wind power generation. Pickens envisions wind as a vital component of an energy plan for the U.S. His newly unveiled Pickens Plan declares that America can cut it's foreign oil needs by more than a third in less than a decade.

The sentiment behind his bold plan is this: "America is in a hole and it's getting deeper every day. We import 70% of our oil at a cost of $700 billion a year - four times the annual cost of the Iraq war. I've been an oil man all my life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of. But if we create a new renewable energy network, we can break our addiction to foreign oil."

So great is Pickens' concern, he has launched a massive information campaign in print and on the web. His intention is to infuse the country's foreign-oil-dependence mania with a business-like pragmatism, replete with numbers, goals, targets and what he says is a realistic strategy. He's also hoping to prod our politicians into meaningful, results-oriented dialogue. "Neither presidential candidate is talking about solving the oil problem," he says. "So we're going to make 'em talk about it."

Ironic, really, that it might take an oil tycoon to nudge us toward a renewable energy policy.