TOPICS > Politics

Energy Deal

November 17, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: It took a massive power outage this summer to revive congressional interest in a wide-ranging energy bill President Bush had first called for two years ago. Shortly after the blackout, the Republican-led House and Senate each passed their own energy bills and then spent the last ten weeks negotiating toward a final version. On Friday, Republican leaders announced they had reached agreement.

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici:

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R-N.M.): We have succeeded. A most difficult, difficult job, but we have put it together.

RAY SUAREZ: The massive bill, which runs close to 1,200 pages, provides $18 billion in tax incentives to boost development of oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power; it imposes reliability standards and penalties on the nation’s transmission system, or electricity grid, for the first time; doubles the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive, a measure favored by farm-state legislators; gives producers of MTBE, an additive blamed for ground water pollution, immunity from lawsuits; and it creates tax subsidies to encourage the construction of a $20 billion natural gas pipeline from Alaska to Chicago.

One provision notably absent from the bill is President Bush’s proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas exploration. Also absent, angering Democrats, were more major incentives to encourage the use of renewable fuels. Democrats also complained they were excluded from the negotiations, and that the bill played too heavily to special interests.

New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman:

SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D-N.M.): We don’t know what other provisions may have been added in, special interest provisions that are easy to add in when you’re writing one of these bills in secret, and we just have not been able to look in and see what was happening.

RAY SUAREZ: This afternoon, however, Bingaman and other Democrats were invited to join Republicans as they opened the formal conference committee that will vote on the final bill. (Gavel pounds) Outnumbered on the House-Senate committee, Democrats offered amendments to the energy bill, but by early evening, most had been voted down.


RAY SUAREZ: Later tonight, the committee is expected to pass the energy bill favored by Republicans. The full House and Senate will likely vote later this week.

Joining me now are two House members who serve on the energy conference committee. Joe Barton is a Republican from Texas, and Edward Markey is a Democrat from Massachusetts.

Representative Barton, if the bill comes out of committee as it’s expected to later this evening, what does it accomplish? What are the main points that you wanted to make sure were in there?

REP. JOE BARTON: First I want to thank Congressman Markey for his Patriots beating my Cowboys last night. So we at least start off on a bipartisan fashion of his folks beating my folks. But in terms of the energy bill, what we want to do is look at all energy sources in this country in a comprehensive synergistic fashion, combine the production needs with the conservation needs and the environmental needs to come up with a package that ensures our energy future to be as bright as possible. And I think this bill does that. It’s the most comprehensive energy bill we’ve ever had in the House and the Senate. And I think it’s probably the best energy bill that we’ve ever had before the two bodies.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Markey, do you and the Democratic conferees think that it does what Joe Barton just said?

REP. EDWARD MARKEY: No, we believe that this bill is an historic failure. We do have 130,000 patriots over in Iraq right now, fighting for us. And a large reason why, we spend so much of our national resources on the Middle East is because of the oil. And we can’t really get around that reality.

So this bill, although America puts 70 percent of all of the oil which it consumes into gasoline tanks, this bill does nothing about SUVs, which are now about half all the new vehicles sold in America. We’re going to continue to become more and more dependent upon imported oil. Does nothing about air conditioners in the middle of the summer, about 70 percent of peak demand for electricity in the south comes air conditioning demand, we do nothing about that.

And I guess if you look at the bill, you can say to yourself, how can they, how can the Republicans have a bill that is conceived in secrecy in the Cheney energy task force and then up here in the House and Senate only Republicans have been allowed in the room, the environmentalists, the consumer groups have not been allowed in and neither have the Democrats, and expect to have a bill which deals with the future rather than just oil, gas, coal and nuclear.

So there is no renewable portfolio standard in here to ensure that utilities in our country begin to use more and more of the renewable energy resources over the next 15 to 20 years, and unfortunately we’re going to wind up more dependent on imported oil ten years from now than we are today when another generation of young men and women are going to be asked to go to the Middle East.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Barton, how do you respond to your colleague’s critique that there’s too much emphasis on production and not enough on conservation?

REP. JOE BARTON: I want to respectfully disagree with my good friend from Massachusetts I. would point out we have the president’s hydrogen initiative in the bill. We’re funding it to the tune of almost $3 billion over the next five years with the explicit goal of having a hydrogen vehicle available for sale by 2015 and having the infrastructure in place by 2020. That’s a very pro-environmental, pro-conservation measure.

We also have a clean coal technology title, and in that a clean air coal title which I personally put in to put a billion and a half dollars over I think the next ten year into retrofitting our older coal plants to bring them into compliance with the best technology for air quality. We look at non-conventional fuel sources, we have tax — production tax credits for solar and wind. We continue many of the tax credit that we already had in the existing tax code.

It’s a very good bill. We have a lot of the Markey amendments, not every one he wanted in, on nuclear safety issues. We’re trying to revitalize our nuclear industry. So honorable people can disagree honorably about the end result, but I think the objective citizens of this country, once they look at the way the bill interacts across fuel sources and across regions, are going to be very pleased with it and our economic future is going to be brighter because our energy future is brighter because of this bill.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Markey, what do you think? It’s said that one of the things that spurred both chambers into action was the summertime blackouts, the spike in natural gas prices. There are answers to some of these specific energy challenges, according to its supporters, right there in the bill. Doesn’t it accomplish some of the things you needed to do?

REP. EDWARD MARKEY: Well, the bill does some things, there’s no question about it. It’s really what it doesn’t do that is troubling, combined with some of the things that it deliberately does. For example, it gives a waiver to all legal liability for the producers of MTBE. We might wind up as a result with rather than the producers of MTBE, than states and local municipalities having to spend tens of billions of dollars to deal with the public health consequences of that. And that’s just wrong. These companies should be held liable.

Similarly, there is also a waiver provision to the Clean Air Act, which has been built into this bill, which is going to increase the amount of pollutants that go out into the atmosphere, and as you know we have 8 million children in America with asthma today, 24 million Americans altogether. In addition to other respiratory illnesses, this bill actually increases the amount of pollution, which we’re going to see over the next generation because it doesn’t deal with automobiles, it doesn’t deal with air conditioning, it doesn’t deal with, in other words with the sources that actually lead to the increase in production.

So it’s really not a bill for the 21st century. It’s a bill looking in a rear view mirror back at the old oil and gas and coal industries, and I understand how Dick Cheney and George Bush feel about those industries. But given the fact that we’re over in the Middle East, this should be a bill that is respectful of the sacrifice that those American fighting families are making, and we should be reducing dramatically the amount of oil that we’re putting into these vehicles that we drive in America, and instead they actually still have in the law a $100,000 tax subsidy for people who buy Humvees, which is just absolutely, to me, an atrocity given the situation that we’re in in Iraq right now.

RAY SUAREZ: Representative Barton, let me get your response on some of those points specifically. Congressman Markey mentioned now twice that we’re over in the Middle East, that American forces are fighting, in part because of the strategic oil reserves in that region, and yet the bill doesn’t do that much to encourage conservation in one of the biggest users, automobiles.

REP. JOE BARTON: Well, I have great respect for Congressman Markey and he knows that. Let me try to very quickly respond directly to the main points that he made. On the Humvee issue, that’s not in this bill, that’s a tax issue that’s an accelerated depreciation issue that’s not a part of this bill.

On the clean air issue, there are no waivers to Clean Air Act on this bill. There’s a codification that exists of the prior Clinton administration policy that gives regions that are in non-attainment for ozone a little extra time to comply when part of the pollution comes from outside the control region. That is a Clinton administration policy that the Bush administration policy supports. A court had ruled that the Clean Air Act wasn’t explicit on giving flexibility and so we just codified the administration, both administrations’ policy on that.

On the CAFE standard issue, Congressman Markey is right on that one, we don’t have a requirement that we increase automobile fuel efficiency. So I would agree with him on that. I would point out that there is a provision, a Barton amendment in the bill, that requires a comprehensive review of the existing CAFE provisions and a report back to the Congress within a year of enactment if there isn’t a better way to do it.

Again we have the hydrogen initiative that, if that works, we’re going to be running our cars and trucks with hydrogen powered fuel cells within 15 or 20 years. So is this a bill that has kind of a wish list of the environmental activist in the country, the answer is no. Is this a bill that looks at the broad needs of our country and says what do we need to maintain our economy, with a sound basic energy policy based on private sector market capitalism, I think the answer to that is yes.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Barton, as you scan over the House and look at where the votes might be coming from, is this more complicated than just a Republican-Democrat two sides of the aisle issue? Or are there Republicans from states that are heavily affected by acid rain, Democrats who grow a lot of corn, that might be looking at whether they can go with their party on this one?

REP. JOE BARTON: We’ve already had a bipartisan vote for the bill in the House, we had I believe 57 Democrats vote for this bill back in April, which I want to point out is before the blackouts in August. The Senate didn’t pass their bill until after the blackouts in the Midwest and the Northeast. But the House did. It will be a bipartisan bill in the Senate. When this comes to the floor, you’ll have almost all the Republicans voting for it, and sizable numbers of Democrats voting for it but not all the Democrats.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Markey, is your job now to start peeling some folks away?

REP. EDWARD MARKEY: Ray, this bill is so bad that I can’t help but believe that the environmental and consumer movement in the country isn’t going to rise up. The only problem is that they gave us the bill on Saturday afternoon, 1,700 pages. We’re voting on it in the conference committee today. And no human being can read 1,700 pages of technical material in two days. And the Republican leadership will now want us to vote on this bill tomorrow. So this is absolutely unacceptable. It’s done in secret.

The ethanol provision actually requires more oil and gas to be spent in producing the ethanol than it will save, and it will wind up with a nickel increase in gasoline prices for people on the East and West coasts. We have, as Joe said, I had some good nuclear terrorism provisions built into the House bill, but it got watered down in this bill. You would think that it would be strengthened, especially at this time of fear about terrorism. There’s a whole long litany that we could go through.

Democrats I hope in the Senate will filibuster; this bill deserves a filibuster. The Senate debated last week, all week, on four judges. Well, this bill is the environmental and energy bill for the next generation. And it deserves a long debate in the House and the Senate. The House is planning on giving us one hour tomorrow to debate all of these issues, all 1,700 pages.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let me get a very quick response from Joe Barton on just that question.

REP. JOE BARTON: We had both the House and Senate pass similar bills last year that died in conference, the House bill passed this year back in April, there is nothing in the conference report that hasn’t been known in a general sense for months if not years. The specific language just came out on Saturday. But the issues that revolve around that language has been debated openly and publicly for years and years in some cases. This is not a secret bill. The specific language, the commas and all of that, that’s new. But the substance is not new, and it’s been fully debated, imbedded. And as Congressman Markey well knows, it will pass both the House and the Senate with broad bipartisan support, because it should. It is good for the country. It is a good basic energy bill for our country.

RAY SUAREZ: I’m going to stop it right there, gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.


REP. JOE BARTON: Thank you.