bridges vol. 15, September 2007 / Bills in Brief: S&T Policy News

With $70 per barrel crude oil prices, $3 per gallon gasoline, lasting uncertainty about supply from the war-struck Middle East, and growing concern about climate change, the House and Senate have pushed forward to tackle energy issues.

Two major energy bills are circulating presently: The Senate passed its version on June 21 (HR 6, Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007), the House followed on Aug 4 (HR 3221, New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act). Yet the bills differ significantly.

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Big SUVs are a prime target of the hotly debated CAFE-standards intended to improve the average fuel economy of cars.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS, aka RES, Renewable Energy Standard), present in the House legislation but not in the Senate bill, would require consumers to purchase 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

The automotive fuel economy mandate (CAFE, Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards), present in the Senate legislation but not in the House bill, would require automobiles to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Of note, the Senate's energy bill would enable builders of new nuclear plants to apply for billions of dollars in governmental loan guarantees (see the related New York Times article). A detailed comparison between the two proposals by Dr. Joseph Romm can be found at .

In a separate action related to its energy bill (HR 3221), the House also passed the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007 (HR 2776 ) on Aug. 4. This includes an estimated $16 billion in tax credits and bonds to foster investment in sustainable energy production, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels among others. The measure would be financed by cutting oil and gas subsidies. US House and Senate negotiators spent the August recess preparing to weed out differences in their respective energy bills, yet no dates for the House-Senate Conference Committee on the energy appropriations bill have been scheduled. A statement from Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman (Department of Energy, DOE) on the Passage of HR 2776 and HR 3221 indicates a potential veto by President George W. Bush.

Overshadowed by the extensive energy bills of each chamber of the Congress, several other bills have been introduced dealing with environmental and energy issues:

  • At an early stage of the procedure is the Solar Energy Research and Advancement Act of 2007 (HR.2774 ) that was introduced on June 19 and scheduled for debate on June 27. It would establish a R&D program on thermal energy storage technologies for concentrating solar power. An overview of solar power and solar energy legislation (HR 2774) can be found here .
  • An equivalent effort for biofuels is the Biofuels Research and Development Enhancement Act (HR 2773 ) that was scheduled for debate on June 27 (see the AAAS policy brief on biofuels for more information). After having passed the House on July 27, the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 (HR 2419 ) awaits discussion in the Senate. The legislation would promote biofuels programs, including loan guarantees, woody-biomass energy research, and an ethanol pipeline feasibility study.

On Sept 4, the Green Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2007 (HR 2850 ) passed the House. It seeks to improve federal coordination, dissemination, and investment in green chemistry research and development (R&D), and aims to provide safer, more sustainable technological options to replace traditional products and processes. Under the bill, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy (DOE) would work together to fund and coordinate green chemistry R&D. In a press release , the American Chemical Society welcomed the legislation. Similar legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the House in each of the last two congresses, but was not acted on in the Senate.