Climate Change and Alternative Energies

US policymakers are getting serious about climate change and the related questions of energy supplies, energy independence, and security: On January 18, 2007, the House passed the CLEAN (Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation) Energy Act of 2007 by a vote of 264-163. The bill was subsequently considered in the Senate, where it was amended to include provisions from the Senate's own energy bill. The amended version passed the Senate on June 21, 2007.

It is currently awaiting consideration by a conference committee of senators and representatives to work out differences in the versions of the bill each chamber approved.

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It was a major undertaking, the "S. 1419 Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007 ," a bill introduced in the Senate on May, 17 2007. Its purpose is to "move the United States to greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers from price gouging, to increase the energy efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government, and for other purposes." Some milestones of the bill are the setting of energy-efficiency standards in private households for domestic appliances, thermal regulation, water heating, and lighting systems. Public buildings should get green as well: a 20% reduction of operating expenses over five years is the predicted outcome from the usage of more energy-efficient heating, cooling, and lighting systems.

Another focus of the bill was fuel economy: By 2020 cars should get gas mileage of 35 miles per gallon or better, roughly 40% better fuel economy than the current 25 mpg. Naturally the auto industry is one of the major antagonists of this bill, claiming that it could raise automotive production costs by thousands of dollars per vehicle.

The bill requires that 15 billion gallons of biofuels should be used annually by 2015, nearly twice as much as will be used in 2008. Eventually, in 2022, 36 billion gallons of biofuels should be used. Of this total, corn ethanol is going to be the most commonly used biofuel, but starting in 2016 it will gradually be replaced by 3 billion gallons of advanced biofuels per year.

Furthermore, the bill promotes research into methods of capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and finding a way to store them underground. The bill also fosters the establishment of "strategic energy partnerships" with the governments of major energy producers and consumers to increase international energy security.

The price of gasoline has risen in the last 5 years to its current level of somewhere around $3 per gallon, almost three times the price in 2002. This certainly influenced the part of the bill that makes price gouging by the oil industry during times of temporary "national energy emergency" a federal crime. Furthermore, it would give greater authority to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate refinery shutdowns and other manipulations of the oil market. This part of the bill is especially strongly opposed by oil companies and President Bush, who has even threatened a veto for this provision.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the bill and found that enacting the bill would increase direct spending by $1.8 billion over the period from 2008 to 2012, and by $2.5 billion between 2008 and 2017. In addition, revenues would be reduced by $2.7 billion over the next 10 years and increased federal outlays would total $5.2 billion for 2008-2017. Detailed information about the estimated costs can be found at the Congressional Budget office;
The report itself can be found at: or

In the House of Representatives, besides H.R. 6, several other bills have been introduced dealing with environmental and energy issues. Among them is H.R. 364 "Establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) Act ." Once founded, ARPA-E should help reduce the US dependency on oil through the development and commercialization of clean energy technologies. A measurable outcome of a 20% reduction in energy imports from foreign sources should be reached within the next ten years (click here for an article on ARPA-E in this bridges issue).