Energy Bill Hangs in Balance

Published November 1, 2002

The future of America’s energy supply hung in the balance as the fall Congressional term neared its end. As this publication went to press, negotiators from the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives were scrambling to reach agreement on an energy bill they could sell to voters in the November elections.

With an impasse still firmly in place, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana), chairman of the House-Senate energy bill conference committee, hinted Republicans might agree to far-reaching carbon dioxide limitations in exchange for access to oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“The Senate very clearly wants to have climate change in the bill. We very clearly on the House side want to see ANWR,” said Tauzin. “There might be a trade here. We’ll look for it. Everything is on the table.”

Republican willingness to accept the Senate’s Kyoto-like carbon dioxide limitations could be what it takes to bridge the wide chasm between the House and Senate bills. The question, however, is at what cost.

Anti-Energy Bill

“The Senate’s energy bill is really an anti-energy bill,” noted Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). “Nearly every provision creates a new government office, program, or regulation designed to raise energy prices, force down energy use, or lay the groundwork for implementing the Kyoto global warming treaty.”

“As wonderful as it would be to lift the ban on ANWR, America can survive and even thrive without access to ANWR oil,” observed CEI senior fellow Marlo Lewis. “It is far from clear that America could remain prosperous and strong under Kyoto or kindred energy-rationing schemes.”

Regulatory Rollback vs. New Constraints

Both the Senate and House measures have been criticized for wasteful and excessive federal spending. Many of their provisions are clearly designed to prop up or subsidize inefficient programs and industries favored by powerful Congressmen.

The House bill, however, offsets such undesirable spending with provisions to streamline regulatory bottlenecks that penalize the creation of energy infrastructure and recovery of efficient energy sources.

The Senate bill, to the contrary, makes large increases in new federal spending even worse with new constraints on the recovery and delivery of efficient energy sources. Most notably, the Senate bill requires privately owned utilities to more than quadruple the percentage of electricity generated from inefficient renewable sources and imposes numerous new constraints on energy sources that generate carbon dioxide.

Particularly troubling for the U.S. economy are the proposed constraints on carbon dioxide emissions. Said CEI’s Lewis, “Climate change is the leading pretext for anti-energy policies—rationing schemes like the Kyoto Protocol, which would restrict America’s access to the hydrocarbon fuels that supply 70 percent of our electricity and 84 percent of all our energy needs.”

“Whether Americans will continue to enjoy abundant supplies of affordable energy in coming decades depends on negotiations in a House-Senate conference committee that will likely climax in the next fortnight,” said Ebell. “It all hinges on whether White House officials are so eager to get an energy bill—any energy bill—that they will cave in to the demands of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, and Democratic Presidential hopefuls Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.”

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.