- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

This week, Congress is expected to take action on the final version of the energy bill. Considering the nation’s great need for such reforms, not to mention the years it has taken to reach this point, Congress should expedite passage of the measure.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, the chief negotiator from the House, recently said, “The room for maneuver on an energy bill is always very narrow. I don’t know that you could have squeezed any more into this bill.” While he is right on the first point, the second is more suspect, since the bill’s tax subsidies could exceed $20 billion. As one oil industry lobbyist noted before the final language was released, “the thing is being loaded like a barge.” It contains many costly provisions, including a measure to double consumption of corn-based ethanol over the next decade.

Yet, the ethanol subsidy was probably required to win the support of Midwestern legislators, and other sweeteners were needed for similar effect. Meanwhile, the inclusion of other provisions, no matter how desirable (such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration), would have ensured a Senate filibuster.

Besides, the bill contains many measures needed to stimulate energy investment and production — both by inclusion and exclusion. Although it contains ample subsidies for renewable energy — $300 million for solar programs alone — it does not contain a provision requiring utilities to generate 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources. The legislation encourages the development of national natural gas resources, most notably by allowing construction of the natural gas pipeline. It should also provide the nuclear industry needed stimulus, not only by reauthorizing (for the next two decades) the nuclear liability protections in the Price-Anderson Act, but also through tax breaks for the building of new nuclear reactors.

The energy legislation also contains many long-needed reforms for the electricity sector. Its repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act will undoubtedly encourage new investments. Warren Buffet has said he would invest billions, and others are likely to follow his lead. The bill’s compromise on electricity standards seems reasonable. Its provision setting up mandatory reliability standards for electricity transmission networks is a timely reform, considering that the U.S.-Canadian taskforce is expected today to release its interim report on this summer’s blackout.

Yesterday, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham remarked that failure to pass the measure would constitute a “catastrophic mistake.” He’s right, considering the nation’s episodic energy shortages and expected needs in the future. While the bill will hardly solve every energy problem, it makes many worthwhile improvements.

On balance, the good in the bill outweighs the bad, notwithstanding the criticisms of conservatives and Democrats. Congress should send this legislation to the president as soon as possible.

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