Democrats May Aid Renewable Energy in Oil Spill Bill

17/06/2010 at 3:51 pm Leave a comment

Author: Simon Lomax

Senate Democrats will debate today whether a bill that responds to BP Plc’s oil spill should benefit renewable energy sources and limit greenhouse gases.

The closed-door meeting will gauge Democratic support for these proposals before President Barack Obama brings Republicans into talks on energy legislation next week at the White House.

Obama said this week that the spill, caused by a fatal April 20 explosion on a BP-leased rig in the Gulf of Mexico, should spur new laws to “change how we produce and use energy.” He didn’t insist that the Senate approve legislation passed by the House last year that uses a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions, saying he was open to “other ideas.”

While support for “clean energy” may be growing in the wake of the spill, “we need a different approach than cap-and- trade,” Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, a Gulf state whose beaches and marshes are being fouled by the BP spill, told reporters.

Landrieu, who said the spill shouldn’t be used to “shut down the oil and gas industry,” said she hasn’t decided which clean-energy measures to support.

“Any thinking American, even Americans like myself who are pro-drilling, think that there’s got to be a better way forward,” she said.

Legislation Next Month

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said June 3 he wants to bring up legislation next month that deals with offshore oil drilling safety, compensation for businesses and workers who have lost income because of the BP spill, and measures to boost “domestic production of clean and renewable alternative fuels.”

Democrats will be briefed today on three energy bills that aim to boost alternatives to fossil fuels such as oil and coal, Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesman, said in an e-mail. He said a final decision on what makes it into next month’s energy bill is “unlikely” before the meeting with Obama, announced yesterday by Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, will put forward at today’s meeting the proposal he unveiled last month with Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent. Under their plan, power plants and factories would be regulated by a cap-and-trade program, in which companies buy and sell a declining number of carbon dioxide allowances.

Carbon Allowances

Most allowances would be given away at first to shield homes and businesses from higher energy bills, and some households would be eligible for rebates. Refineries would have to buy allowances directly from the federal government to account for the carbon dioxide produced by cars and trucks that burn oil-based fuels such as gasoline.

The two senators have said Obama’s call this week for new laws to “tackle our addiction to fossil fuels” gives their legislation a better chance of passing Congress this year.

Another plan from Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, puts government limits on greenhouse gases. Her “cap- and-dividend” proposal would require fossil-fuel importers and producers, such as coal mines, to buy carbon pollution rights from the federal government at monthly auctions.

Three-quarters of the money raised from the sale of “carbon shares,” similar to cap-and-trade allowances, would be rebated to consumers, with the remaining 25 percent used for “clean energy reinvestment,” such as research and development into pollution-cutting technologies.

Under both the Kerry and Cantwell plans, pollution-free energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels would benefit as companies that produce or burn coal, oil and natural gas start adding the new cost of pollution rights.

Bingaman Plan

A third plan from Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would require utilities to buy 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal power plants by 2021.

Bingaman’s legislation, which cleared the energy committee last year, also toughens energy-efficiency standards for new buildings, appliances and industrial equipment. While it doesn’t directly regulate greenhouse gases, it would curb pollution through the greater use of renewable electricity and by cutting back on consumption, according to a summary of the proposal.

‘Diverse Energy Standard’

Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, who recently proposed a “diverse energy standard” that would treat new nuclear reactors and coal-fired power plants that capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions the same as it would treat wind farms and solar panels, will be one of the Republicans asked to the White House next week, Gibbs said.

Like the Senate energy committee’s bill, Lugar’s proposal would toughen energy-efficiency standards for new buildings, appliances and industrial equipment. It would also raise fuel- economy standards for new cars and trucks.

Lugar’s plan “explicitly builds on a lot of the provisions we’ve reported out of our committee” on low-carbon electricity sources and energy efficiency, Bingaman said in an interview. Lugar said the legislation from Bingaman’s committee “has a good number of ideas that are compatible with my own.”

The Lugar and Bingaman proposals could be the basis for a “good bill,” said Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, the leading Republican on the energy committee. Murkowski, who voted for Bingaman’s bill in the committee, said Lugar’s diverse energy standard is “better than” the renewable mandate.

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Entry filed under: Renewable Energy.

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