the new energy bill

The U.S. Senate passed a new energy bill late last week. The bill called for an increase in automobile fuel economy, outlined penalties for energy price-gouging, and promised money for the production of fuel from corn. Here’s a clip from CNN:

…In an eleventh-hour compromise fashioned after two days of closed-door meetings, an agreement was reached to increase average fuel economy by 40 percent to 35 miles per gallon for cars, SUVs and pickup trucks by 2020.

But the fuel economy issue threatened to topple the legislation up to the last minute. Majority Leader Harry Reid held off the vote until late into the evening so several senators could be called back to Capitol Hill to provide the 60-vote margin needed to overcome a threatened filibuster from pro-auto industry senators.

Shortly before midnight, senators voted 62-32 to cut off debate, and followed by passing the bill 65-27. The measure now awaits action by the House, which is expected to take it up next week. But attempts to combine the two bills and send legislation to President Bush probably won’t be possible until later this year.

It would be the first increase in vehicle fuel efficiency since the current 22.7 mpg for cars was put in place in 1989 and the first time Congress has imposed a new auto efficiency mandate in 32 years….

While I’d like to celebrate the first significant piece of fuel economy legislation in 30 years, I’m not so sure we’ve got all that much to be happy about. Sure, it’s a good thing that the debate has shifted from drilling to conservation, but is it enough? According to several groups, it isn’t. I just received a note from Friends of the Earth a few minutes ago that summed it up nicely. Here’s a clip:

The much ballyhooed fuel standards are not only weak, they can be waived at the auto industry’s request! First off, the new standard requires automakers’ fleets to reach an average of 35 mpg 12 years from now, which isn’t much given that hybrids on the road today average around 50 mpg. Second, incremental improvements for each year after the 2020 target date were removed, so we could well stop at 35 mpg once we get there. Third, we might not even get the 35 mpg in the first place, thanks to a provision that allows the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to declare the regulations null and void should the auto industry persuade it that the standards cannot be reached without financial hardship. Finally, if this lame fuel standard gets signed into law, fuel economy legislation will likely be taken off the congressional agenda until 2020 (assuming NHTSA doesn’t buckle to the auto industry before then).

And then there are the things that didn’t make it into the bill at all, like the $32 billion that Democrats had been hoping to get for renewable energy. The idea was that increased taxes on oil companies, and the reversal of present tax giveaways to the petroleum industry, would pay for it over ten years, but that didn’t fly with Senate Republicans. Democrats were also unsuccessful in their bid to require that electric utilities produce at least 15% of their electricity from renewables by some point in the not too distant future.

Without a doubt the biggest winners in al of this were corn farmers and those in the business of producing ethanol. The bill calls for us to produce 36 billion gallons a year of the stuff by 2022. I’m not an expert on ethanol by any means, but it seems to be pretty widely suspected that, gallon for gallon, when the entire system is taken into account, ethanol produces just about as much pollution contributing to global warming as gasoline. And, on top if it, the growing of corn for the production of ethanol relies heavily on fertilizer, which is itself a petroleum product.

It could be worse though. Instead of liquid coal and ethanol, our Senators could have been pushing Vivoleum… Speaking of which, did you happen to see that our friends the Yes Men were in the news again? This time, they were posing as Exxon executives and suggesting that we begin burning people for fuel. Here’s a clip from the press release they issued after the action:

Imposters posing as ExxonMobil and National Petroleum Council (NPC) representatives delivered an outrageous keynote speech to 300 oilmen at GO-EXPO, Canada’s largest oil conference, held at Stampede Park in Calgary, Alberta, today.

The speech was billed beforehand by the GO-EXPO organizers as the major highlight of this year’s conference, which had 20,000 attendees. In it, the “NPC rep” was expected to deliver the long-awaited conclusions of a study commissioned by US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. The NPC is headed by former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, who is also the chair of the study.

In the actual speech, the “NPC rep” announced that current U.S. and Canadian energy policies (notably the massive, carbon-intensive exploitation of Alberta’s oil sands, and the development of liquid coal) are increasing the chances of huge global calamities. But he reassured the audience that in the worst case scenario, the oil industry could “keep fuel flowing” by transforming the billions of people who die into oil.

“We need something like whales, but infinitely more abundant,” said “NPC rep” “Shepard Wolff” (actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men), before describing the technology used to render human flesh into a new Exxon oil product called Vivoleum. 3-D animations of the process brought it to life.

“Vivoleum works in perfect synergy with the continued expansion of fossil fuel production,” noted “Exxon rep” “Florian Osenberg” (Yes Man Mike Bonanno). “With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of disaster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will continue to flow for those of us left.”

The oilmen listened to the lecture with attention, and then lit “commemorative candles” supposedly made of Vivoleum obtained from the flesh of an “Exxon janitor” who died as a result of cleaning up a toxic spill…

As for the energy bill, it’s now in the hands of the House, where it could be strengthened or weakend… If you haven’t written to your Congressperson in a while, this might be a good occasion to do so.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted June 25, 2007 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I’m glad someone else noticed the link between synthetic fertilizers and growing corn. I mean, if the manure from feedlots was nearly as powerful a fertilizer as we’re told it’s supposed to be, then why aren’t they shipping factory farm cow, chicken, and pig shit all over the country?

  2. dr. teddy glass
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    My guess is that intensive corn farming also isn’t good for the soil.

  3. Sam
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Actually, we should be thankful that the coal to liquid proposals were dropped. This stuff is far more harmful than any of the other options, both in terms CO2 emissions and also the problems associated with mountaintop removal.

    As for ethanol, as much corn fuel is a boondoggle for ADM and Monsanto today, it will never be of any real significance because we can’t possibly grow enough corn to displace more than a few percent of oil production. All the ethanol money should go toward developing and commercializing cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel. Even with that at best with cellulosic ethanol we could displace maybe thirty percent of our future petroleum use.

    The key is using less of all fuels. Unfortunately the bill included provisions to punish price gouging. Instead what we should be doing is what David Cole said at the Alt Fuels forum http://www.autobloggreen.com/2007/06/14/autobloggreen-qanda-dr-david-cole/ . We need to set a floor for oil prices and if the Saudis crank up production to drop the price (if they can), tax the difference to maintain that floor. This will keep people moving toward more efficient vehicles and ensure a market for the vehicles, the automakers need to build and are currently developing. In addition, the taxes need to be gradually ratcheted upwards with the extra revenue used to offset income tax reductions for lower income people. All of this helps stimulate demand for higher efficiency.

    Unfortunately no politician in congress seems to have the balls to propose this lest they get crucified next year.

  4. dr. teddy glass
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    You’re on the right track, but, if we want to really make an impact we need to get further out of the box. I’m talkin’ ’bout vagina power!

    http://www.metafilter.com/62367/Hitting-the-Walls-and-Working-the-Middle

  5. Dr. Cherry
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Artificial economic controls often have unintended results. First year economics teaches that trade floors create surpluses.

    When we have a gas surplus, prices stay low and there’s little cause to conserve or innovate. A trade ceiling would have the opposite effect, we’d have supply shortages.

  6. Robert
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad that Starkweather thread was dropped. I was having a hard time following it in the first place.

    Now that you’re the 10th most influential blogger in the state, Mark, you’re going to have to face the harsh realities of growing popularity. The more people you have listening to you, the more you’re gonna have to dumb down the conversation. If you keep posting stuff that requires a person to know shit, I won’t be hanging around long. I get an inferiority complex.

  7. egpenet
    Posted June 25, 2007 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    This bill will get vetoed by George.

  8. Cleo Love Paste
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I like the idea of buying an arm and a leg to fill up my car. It’s better than paying an arm and a leg.

  9. egpenet
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Loads of Republican press amd even MoveOn.org press rightfully scolding Dingell for being such an old stick-in-the-oil-sands-mud about liquifying coal, etc. … same mistake Obama made a few weeks ago. Get WITH it senator!

    As I posted some time ago, I HATE term limits! On the other hand, terms limits which could get rid of Dingel would be GREAT for Michigan!

    He is an albatross and has very bad advisors. Anyone who blogs and digs can find that liquidfied coal versus ethanol (which is ALSO a bad idea) puts more carbon into the atmosphere than even ethanol! And corn-based ethanol is stupid, because corn sugars have the lowest burn rate. Sugar cane would be the most desireablee. And even then ethanol sucks.

    Read up on what Chrysler/Gm have done with hybrid V-6 engines to increase fuel economy by 40-60%! Leave it to technology. And stop the good-old-boys from screwing up what they have beeen *******-up for the last 50 years. Dingel … go home!

  10. egpenet
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Levin, too.

  11. mark
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Pelosi was right to begin working around Dingel. He’s not the kind of guy you can look to for innovative legislation. His roots are too deep in Michigan automotive culture…. With that said, I think he’s got some good people on his staff who are trying to push him a bit. Unfortunately, his turn around isn’t happening quickly enough… He and Levin both have enough political capital that they could afford to be more ambitious than they are. I get that they’re trying to preserve our jobs here in Michigan, but it’s one of those kinds of things where they could win the battle and lose the war. Global warming, quite frankly, is more important that preserving the status quo for another decade.

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