New Energy Legislation Passes in Senate

The Senate passed a new energy bill late Thursday night that aims to boost the nation's use of renewable energy and promote energy efficiency. Also, guests and callers discuss the future of coal — a new report says coal will continue to be in demand, but mining it will get more difficult.

Ben Geman, senior reporter, Greenwire, Environment and Energy Daily

Corale Brierley, chair, Committee on Coal Research, Technology, and Resource Assessments to Inform Energy Policy, National Research Council; president, Brierley Consultancy

Richard Bajura, director, National Research Center for Coal and Energy, West Virginia University

What's in the Senate Energy Bill?

The Senate passed a new energy bill late Thursday night that aims to boost the nation's use of renewable energy and promote energy efficiency. That's in sharp contrast to the energy bill passed two years ago — by a Republican-controlled Senate — which promoted oil and gas production. Here, a look at the provisions in the Senate legislation:

  • Fuel Economy: Mandates an increase in automobile fuel-economy requirements to a fleet-wide average of 35 mpg by 2020. That's up 40 percent from the current requirements of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and small trucks.
  • Renewable Fuels: Requires that half of all new cars manufactured by 2015 be capable of running on 85 percent ethanol or on biodiesel fuels. Also mandates the production of 36 billion gallons a year of ethanol, as a substitute for gasoline, by 2022 — a sevenfold increase over production in 2006. Ethanol would be made from corn as well as "cellulosic" sources, such as switch grass, wood chips or agricultural waste.
  • Price Gouging: Makes it a federal crime to charge an "unconscionably excessive" price for oil products — including gasoline. Also gives the federal government new authority to investigate possible manipulation of the oil market. Oil companies and the Bush administration strongly oppose this provision, which has prompted a veto threat from President Bush.
  • Energy Efficiency: Sets new energy-efficiency standards for appliances and lighting. Requires the federal government to speed up its adoption of more efficient lighting in public buildings.
  • Research: Creates grants, loan guarantees and other assistance to promote research into fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids, advanced diesel and battery technologies.
  • Carbon Capture: Promotes large-scale demonstrations of technologies that capture carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants and inject it into the ground.

What the bill does NOT include:

  • A tax package that would have raised taxes on oil companies by nearly $30 billion to help subsidize renewable sources of energy. That provision was blocked by opponents, who argued that additional taxes on major oil companies would cause them to reduce production and lead to higher gasoline prices.
  • A requirement that 15 percent of what power plants generate come from renewable energy sources.

The House is moving its own energy legislation. The bills will have to be reconciled and passed by both chambers before reaching President Bush's desk.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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