Bipartisan Energy Bill Exposes Obama-McCain Schism

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 3:18 PM PDT
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Bipartisan Energy Bill Exposes Obama-McCain Schism

WASHINGTON, DC, August 4, 2008 (ENS) - A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a proposal to reduce gas prices by opening new areas in the Southeast Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, while raising taxes on the major oil companies.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill Friday, the self-styled "Gang of 10" unveiled an $84 billion measure they call the "New Era," more formally entitled the New Energy Reform Act of 2008.

It would permit producers to explore beyond a 50 mile buffer zone off Florida's Gulf coast and those of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, if those states opt in to the deal. It requires all new oil and gas production to be used domestically.

"I believe this effort epitomizes what the United States Senate is all about. Nothing gets done in this body without 60 votes, and you don't get 60 votes without a true bipartisan effort," said Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican who spearheaded the measure with Democratic Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

While a simple majority of the 100 senators is enough to pass legislation, 60 votes are necessary to override a presidential veto and secure passage of a law should it be opposed by the president.

"Our country faces a critical challenge because of skyrocketing energy costs. This growing crisis is eating into the budgets of families across North Dakota," said Senator Conrad. "This is not a Democratic issue, or a Republican issue, it is an issue that affects all of us."

In an effort to rise above a partisan impasse that has stalled U.S. energy policy as gasoline prices skyrocketed, the New Energy Reform Act would fund the transformation of cars and trucks so that 85 percent of new vehicles on the road would be powered by fuels other than gasoline and petroleum diesel within 20 years.

The bill provides consumer tax credits of up to $7,500 per vehicle to motivate Americans to purchase advanced alternative fuel vehicles and up to $2,500 to retrofit existing vehicles with advanced alternative fuel engines.

It would extend renewable energy, carbon mitigation and energy conservation and efficiency tax incentives, including the production tax credit, through 2012 to spur greater investment in renewables.

The bill provides grants and loan guarantees for the development of coal-to-liquid fuel plants with carbon capture capability. Plants must have lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions below those of the petroleum fuels they replace.

And it supports nuclear energy by increasing staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, providing workforce training, accelerating depreciation for nuclear plants, and supporting research and development on spent fuel recycling to reduce nuclear waste.

Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain of Arizona said today that the only way to address the nation's energy needs is through an "all-of-the-above approach" that uses nuclear power, clean coal technology, and more offshore oil drilling.

"Anybody who says we can achieve energy independence without using and increasing these existing energy resources either doesn't have the experience to understand the challenge we face or isn't giving the American people some straight talk," McCain said.

Congress should return from summer recess to deal with the nation's energy crisis, said McCain, who offered to come off the campaign trail if the Congress reconvenes.

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama of Illinois said today that he welcomes the New Era proposal, which he said avoids "partisan gridlock and special interest influence" and represents "a good faith effort at a new bipartisan beginning."

"Today's announcement includes many of the policies I've been fighting for during my time in the Senate and over the course of this campaign," Obama said. "It would repeal tax breaks for oil companies so that we can invest billions in fuel-efficient cars, help our automakers re-tool, and make a genuine commitment to renewable sources of energy like wind power, solar power, and the next generation of clean, affordable biofuels."

"Like all compromises, it also includes steps that I haven't always supported," said Obama. "I remain skeptical that new offshore drilling will bring down gas prices in the short-term or significantly reduce our oil dependence in the long-term, though I do welcome the establishment of a process that will allow us to make future drilling decisions based on science and fact."

Obama today introduced his own energy plan that would "require oil companies to take a reasonable share of their record-breaking windfall profits and use it to provide direct relief worth $500 for an individual and $1,000 for a married couple."

The rebates would be fully paid for with five years of a windfall profits tax on record oil company profits, he said.

To increase the U.S. gasoline supply and reduce prices that are hovering around $4 per gallon across the country, Obama proposed releasing light crude oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve now and replacing it later with heavier crude oil that he says is "more suited to our long-term needs."

Obama's plan would address global warming. "As a result of climate change," Obama said, "the polar ice caps are shrinking causing sea levels to rise; extreme weather is wreaking havoc across the globe; droughts are becoming more severe, tropical diseases are migrating north and numerous species are being threatened with extinction."

His plan includes an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Obama says he would invest $150 billion over 10 years to accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, encourage energy efficiency, invest in low emissions coal plants, advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid.

These investments will help the private sector create five million new green jobs, good jobs that cannot be outsourced, he said.

As part of that investment, Obama proposes a "Green Vet Initiative" to assist the more than 837,000 troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would offer counseling and job placement in the rapidly growing green economy and would work with industry to create career pathways and educational programs.

Obama's plan drew criticism from his opponent in the presidential race.

McCain said today, "Senator Obama has no plan to address the energy challenges we face as a nation. He has said no to offshore drilling, no to domestic drilling and no to nuclear energy. He has no plan to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Friends of the Earth Action president Brent Blackwelder said today the environmental group is disappointed that Obama would consider allowing more offshore drilling.

Blackwelder said his group prefers Obama's own energy plan to the New Era bill proposed by the Gang of Ten.

"The plan Senator Obama is announcing today is a much better approach. While not perfect, Senator Obama's proposal is a serious response to our nation's most pressing energy problems. It includes support for plug-in hybrid vehicles, a national renewable electricity standard, and a low carbon fuel standard, among other solutions. Senator Obama should focus on continuing to advocate real solutions and avoid yielding to oil companies and allowing more offshore drilling."

Other members of the Gang of 10 coalition are: Republicans John Thune of South Dakota, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia; and Democrats Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

{Photo: Drill rig in the Gulf of Mexico by D. Melson, Sr.}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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