Democrats Celebrate Senate Energy Vote The bill calls for increased use of ethanol and calls for improved gas mileage over the coming decade, but some Republicans complain that it does nothing to boost production of fossil fuels.
NPR logo Democrats Celebrate Senate Energy Vote

Democrats Celebrate Senate Energy Vote

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Senate Democrats celebrated passage of a bill aimed at boosting the use of ethanol and increase gas mileage requirements over a period of decades. The House plans to follow suit as early as next week.

The legislation would require ethanol production for motor fuels to grow to at least 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a sevenfold increase over the amount of ethanol processed last year. It also calls for boosting auto fuel economy to a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase over current requirements for cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks.

Resistance to the new auto fuel economy standards threatened passage until the final hours. Democratic leaders held off a vote until shortly before midnight as senators were called back to the Capitol to assure the votes needed to overcome a threatened filibuster by opponents of the tougher fuel regulations.

The final vote late Thursday was 65-27.

"This bill starts America on a path toward reducing our reliance on oil," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), proclaimed.

Some Republicans complained that the bill did virtually nothing to increase production of traditional domestic fuels, such as oil and natural gas.

The legislation includes price-gouging provisions that make it unlawful to charge an "unconscionably excessive" price for oil products, including gasoline. It gives the federal government new authority to investigate oil industry market manipulation.

It sets down new appliance and lighting efficiency standards and a requirement that the federal government accelerate use of more efficient lighting in public buildings. The bill also provides for grants, loan guarantees and other assistance to promote research into fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids, advanced diesel and battery technologies.

But Democrats had wanted more for renewables than they got. Earlier in the day Reid could not hide his displeasure as Republicans blocked one of the Democrats' top priorities, a $32 billion tax package aimed at boosting renewable fuels, energy efficiency and clean energy programs.

The Republicans didn't like the $29 billion in additional taxes on oil companies that the plan required to pay for the new alternative energy subsidies.

"Big Oil seems to do pretty well here on Capitol Hill," Reid told reporters, making no effort to hide his sarcasm.

Democrats also failed to get a provision that would have required electric utilities to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity from wind, biomass or other renewables after Republicans refused to allow the measure to come up for a vote.

Intense negotiations among a small group of senators produced a compromise on the auto fuel economy matter that emerged as the crown jewel of the Senate-passed bill.

It requires automakers to make a 40 percent increase in the fuel efficiency of their vehicles by 2020 and for the first time puts SUVs, vans and small trucks under the same regulation as passenger cars.

Under the bill each vehicle group must achieve a 10 mpg increase in fuel economy by 2020 with an overall average requirement for a manufacturer's fleet increasing to 35 mpg. Currently cars must meet a fleet average of 27.5 mpg; light trucks - including SUVs and vans - must achieve an average of 22.2 mpg.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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