With gas prices surging and clean energy all the rage, energy policy is a once again a hot topic in Congress.
In 2007 lawmakers passed a bill to hike up gas mileage standards, give an extra boost to ethanol production and phase in other efficiency standards. This year Congress has batted around a number of bills to make a dent in prices at the pump, but political grandstanding during an election year has so far doomed any bill from becoming law. That might change in the final weeks of Congress, as the Senate picks up House bill opening up off-shore drilling and boosting investment in alternative fuels.
green tax incentives
The Senate blocked a measure last year that would extend and expand incentives for green energy; the sticking point being that it would've been paid for by rollbacks on tax breaks for big oil.
The House passed a similar bill in February '08 - with the same deal-killer of oil tax hikes. Below is a snapshot of what's in the bill.
Tax credit would include:
Gas prices have been on a roller coaster - with peaks of $4 a gallon - over the past few years. Inflation-adjusted prices have only just nicked the highs of the 70's (and still don't come close to European “petrol”), but that’s cold comfort to US families and industries that can be highly sensitive to the price of gas. The energy bill Congress passed into law in 2005 by most accounts did little to bring down gas prices (although it did give ethanol a boost), while efforts in 2006 made even less headway. With the dems taking over in '07, Congress did manage to push up gas-mileage standards, but that didn't make the gas debate go away; in '08 Congress is flush again with mini-measures on how to check prices at the pump.
Issue in Brief
It's hard to find a more charged "environment vs. energy" debate than the one over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Bill in Brief
In July, 2005 Congress passed an energy bill with the aim of raising energy supplies at home, lowering energy costs, improving electricity grid reliability and encouraging fuel efficiency. The president signed the bill into law in August.
After Katrina, Congress went through another round of energy hand wringing and sent a second energy bill through the House. That bill is now stopped in the Senate.
Because 86% of our energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil), those energy sources usually get the most flak in any energy debate. Three fossil fuel gripes top the lists. First, folks worry about our dependency on other - sometimes unsavory - nations for oil imports. Also, environmentalists don't like fossil fuels' potentially damaging effects on the environment. And last, because fossil fuels don't grow on trees, people worry that we're not moving fast enough to find substitute energies for when (or if) we eventually run out.
While few entirely disagree these are concerns, many caution that they're not worth getting all wound up about and that current regulations and the invisible hand of the market will set things right.
We're not going to resolve that argument here, but we will lay out some facts to put the debate in perspective
The fossil fuels we use
Energy is, of course, what keeps America - and the rest of the world - running. It's also the source of political debate all the way from drilling in Alaska to windfarming in Massachusetts.
To dive into the nitty gritty of those debates, also see our our fossil fuel, alternative energy and nuclear power pages.
But first, the lay of the energy fields...
where our energy comes from - and what it's used for
How much energy we're using:
100 Quadrillion Btu total (EIA);
Bills in Brief
With soaring summer gas prices (which later mellowed) putting the spotlight back on energy, Congress got in the political mood for some energy saving action in 2006
Both the Senate and House tossed around new and rehashed ideas for short term fixes and long term solutions to spiking gas prices. But although the House trickled out a steady flow of mini energy bills, the only measure that ended up passing was one opening up 8.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling.
Bills in Brief
With a Democratic Congress in charge, 2007 at first looked like it would see a host of energy bills to rev up alternative energy use and ease up on fossil fuel dependence. Both the Senate and House passed a number of energy bills, but ended up with a final - pared down - bill that the president might signed into law right before Christmas.
The original Senate bill
The Senate passed a swath of energy measures, as part of S 1419, in June including: