A Senate panel yesterday approved an energy bill providing less-stringent requirements on utility companies than measures in a similar House bill, which underscores the difficulties Congress faces in framing legislation by year end.
Adding to the sharp divergence of opinion on the issue a number of influential House Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill that would require that the government tap the nation's Strategic Petoleum Reserve to counter rising oil prices. The lawmakers included Rep Ed Markey, and a Massachusetts Democrat who had backed the House energy-and-climate bill aimed at making gasoline more expensive to discourage the use of polluting hydrocarbons.
The bill calls for the department of energy to sell 70 million barrels of expensive light, sweet crude and replace it with cheaper heavy crude to undercut rising gasoline prices which averaged $2.67 a gallon last week.
The proposal which had been presented in earlier sessions had failed to win approval last year with gas prices soaring to a high of more than $4 a gallon. Under the Obama administration, the DOE has said it would tap the emergency stocks to moderate prices while the previous Bush administration had said it would use the reserve oil only in severe supply shortages.
The Senate energy bill, approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with the support of four Republicans provides for drilling in large parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, on which the House version was silent and gives utilities more flexibility to meet renewable-energy requirements than the House bill.
The Senate bill requires utilities to generate as much as 15 per cent of power from renewable sources by 2021, with up to a quarter of that coming from energy efficiency gains while the House bill requires utilities to generate as much as 15 per cent of their power from renewable sources by 2020 in addition to producing efficiency gains accounting for another 5 per cent of power.
Environmental groups have pointed to a number of loopholes in the Senate bill. They have been quick to slam it saying that the bill's renewable standard was so pitiful as to not require any new renewable energy development beyond business as usual.
Both the Senate and House bills, however, call for a comprehensive plan for spurring wind, solar and renewable power sources.
However both approaches fall short of President Barak Obama's call for the nation to generate 25 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2025.