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House Energy Bill Expected To Face Bush Veto

By James Donahue

Congress last week squeezed through a proposed new energy bill that we believe would be a small step in the right direction to wean America away from its dependence on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have already put the issue on hold by sending it off to committee, and a spokesman for the Bush Administration said it would not get past a presidential veto in its present form.

That is because the bill is designed to force American automakers to design vehicles that get up to 35 miles per gallon and utility companies to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020. The concern is that government controls will prove costly to business interests at a time when American industry is facing tough competition from overseas markets.

We believe US car companies are already under the gun, but because they have been slow to respond to market demands for more energy efficient vehicles and power plants. American car makers must start producing alternate-energy vehicles because the world is running out of cheap petroleum. Foreign automakers have already topped sales of American-made cars in the US because they are making cars that get 50 miles to the gallon and better. Thus a bill that sets a limit of at least 35 miles to the gallon does not seem unreasonable. By 2020 we may be demanding vehicles that burn no gasoline or carbon-based fuels at all.

We argue that the day of producing electricity from coal-burning power plants also is looming. That the bill forces utility companies to turn to wind, solar, hydro and other natural energy sources to produce at least 15 percent of the electricity we use seems too small a goal. A complete shift to alternative energy is not only technologically possible, it is necessary if we hope to avoid the catastrophic consequences of allowing electric power companies to continue business as usual.

To encourage people to switch to alternative fuels, the proposed congressional bill offers tax incentives for homeowners and businesses that invest in solar arrays, wind turbines and hybrid gas-electric vehicles.

Republicans, obviously joining President Bush in their dedication to preserving the status quo, are balking at a plan to repeal about $13 billion in tax subsidies to big oil and gas companies like Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp., all of whom recorded record profits during 2007.

Some Republicans also are complaining because the bill fails to open new government lands to oil and natural gas drilling and consequently fails to help curb soaring prices for gasoline and home heating fuels. They argue that the proposals will prove too costly for American business interests and homeowners.

Those old codgers apparently are ignoring reality, and have no idea of new technologies fast becoming available to businesses and homeowners now rushing to not only purchase new fuel-efficient cars, but get their homes "off the grid." It has become vogue in certain states like California to install solar panels and wind generator systems to power and heat private homes. That is partly because the State of California offers tax incentives and government assistance programs that encourage the change.

A new report by a private management consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., expected to be presented during a United Nations meeting this week on climate change in Bali, suggests that a significant reduction in US carbon emissions will be less costly than opponents have argued.

The report predicts that making substantial emissions cuts may cost the economy only a few billion dollars because it would generate economic savings. We also suggest that cutting greenhouse gas emissions will create new industries and jobs, and make the environment safer thus averting extreme climate events and raising health standards.

The McKinsey study is based on technology that already exists, or is in the process of being developed.

The only negative part of the House bill is a provision to boost the use of "renewable fuels" like ethanol to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The production of ethanol, produced mostly from corn, switch grass, sugar cane and other natural plants, is counter productive because it does nothing to reduce carbon emissions and it ties up valuable farmlands that should be used in food production.

While we laud the Democratic House members who drafted and approved this bill, we know that such measures are doomed to failure as long as President George W. Bush and his pals, who sold out to big business interests from the start, remain in control.

Americans must choose their next president with great care if they hope to ever have Earth friendly legislation like this approved in Washington.