Leading Democrats Propose Major Energy Independence Bill - Southern Maryland Headline News

Leading Democrats Propose Major Energy Independence Bill

As power outages cripple parts of NYC and California, Democrats propose a bill that claims to bring Energy Independence to the United States. While the bill addresses alternatives to oil for transportation, it does nothing to address the growing electricity crisis or educate the public about the politics of oil.

WASHINGTON, DC - Leading House Democrats, including Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD), Rep. John Dingell (MI), Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Democrat, Rep. Jim Oberstar, Transportation Committee Ranking Democrat, Rep. Mark Udall (CO), co-chair of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, Rep. Stephanie Herseth (SD), co-chair of the House Democratic Rural Working Group and member of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, member of the House Transportation Committee and Task Force on Livable Communities, Rep. Adam Schiff, member of the House International Relations Committee and co-chair/co-founder of the Democratic Study Group on National Security, and Rep. Rush Holt, unveiled what they term a “comprehensive energy independence bill” entitled the "PROGRESS Act" today.

According to the Democrats, the bill provides provisions that would:

Establish a National Energy Security Commission. The Commission would bring together government, industry and academic leaders to develop consensus national goals that respect regional energy solutions. The Commission would develop recommendations to Congress that would have to be acted upon under expedited rules. The fact is, despite all the expertise on energy issues across government, the private sector and academia, there is no entity that brings such experts together in common cause.

Establish a New Manhattan Center for High Efficiency Vehicles. This proposal would establish an advanced vehicle efficiency consortium and double the federal commitment to federal alternative fuels and vehicle technology programs in the federal government. The effort would revitalize the goals of the Partnership of New Generation of Vehicles from the 1990s to build on current hydrogen and fuel cell work with a focus on battery, advanced diesel and variable compression engines, plug-in electric hybrids, and other vehicle programs. The result would be widespread availability of technologies that can double the current average vehicle efficiency, diversify types of fuels, and continue to develop the future of fuel cells and hydrogen from sustainable and renewable resources.

Establish a National Biofuels Infrastructure Development Program. Vehicles that run on ethanol and biodiesel are being produced. But we must develop biofuel infrastructure – not just retail pumps but also wholesale distribution and transportation infrastructure. This grant program would reimburse private-sector partners to share the costs of investing in the wholesale and retail biofuel pumps, tanks and related distribution equipment. The program would also leverage matching grants from state and local governments designed to encourage the spread of alternative fuels.

Promote Transit Use & Develop a Rail Infrastructure Program. To get biofuels to market and secure an affordable and reliable energy supply, this legislation calls for a stimulus package of infrastructure investment that upgrades the “pipeline” for biofuels – the freight rail system. It also provides grants to promote conservation alternatives such as public transit and commuter rail.

Ensure Federal Government Leadership in the Use of Alternatives to Oil. The federal government is one of the leading owners of vehicle fleets and consumers of petroleum products. The government must lead by example. Thus, this bill would increase the use of alternative fuels in federal fleets, spread pilot biofuel plants around the country and speed development of national standards to allow industry to build toward the same targets.

This is the latest effort by the federal government to lead the United States towards energy dependence. The U.S. has more-or-less been on this path since the oil crisis in the 1970’s when Jimmy Carter was President. However, efforts were often derailed when politicians and the public lost interest as the gasoline supply stabilized and prices dropped to an acceptable level. The pursuit of corporate profits and corporate short-sightedness also played a significant role. Meanwhile, so-called third-world countries such as Brazil hope to realize energy dependence this year due to their non-waning, three decade-long effort. The Brazilians have succeeded in weaning themselves off of gasoline via sugar-cane-based ethanol and natural gas. The Brazilians even hope to export their excess ethanol capacity.

The Democrat’s announcement of their energy independence plan comes at a time when parts of the U.S. are suffering from electricity blackouts. Thousands of customers in NYC have entered their second week without electricity. The cause is still unknown. This follows the 1999 blackout in NYC and much of the Northeast. Meanwhile, high temperatures in California have caused the state to declare more than one electricity emergency. Some areas are also experiencing blackouts. Even SMECO, which serves the low density population of southern Maryland, asked customers to conserve electricity on July 17th due to high temperatures.

The electricity crisis is not limited to
inadequate power capacity and antiquated distribution grids.  Deregulation, utility mergers facilitated by the recent repeal of federal laws, and the rising price of fuel have lead to a massive increase in many consumer's monthly electric bills.  Three Maryland power plants have also made it on the list of America's dirtiest power plants. Critics argue that the pollution causes disease in humans and animals and contributes to the Global Warming crisis.

Despite all of these problems, the PROGRESS Act only focuses on alternative fuels for transportation. Meanwhile, other countries are years into programs to provide green sources of electricity. Germany is currently the number one producer of wind energy. They also have a law that requires utility companies to buy back excess energy from homes and businesses that use wind and solar power at ten times the rate one would pay for a kilowatt-hour generated using conventional fuels. This gives consumers and businesses the financial incentive to power their homes and businesses with pollution-free, renewable sources of energy.

During his administration, Jimmy Carter had solar panels placed on the roof of the White House to serve as a political endorsement for solar power. President Reagan promptly had the panels promptly removed when he entered office.


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