On almost every battle, environmentalists come out losers in
Senate's energy bill
Josef Hebert AP in SF Chronicle 2002.3.24
The Senate was where environmentalists hoped to make their stand
on energy policy. But after two weeks of votes and horse-trading,
Democratic energy bill appears to be anything but green.
Environmentalists lost in their bid to boost automobile fuel economy
and on a string of lesser issues -- from provisions helping the
nuclear industry to
one that would allow small trees in national forests to be processed
as biomass for electricity generation.
However, the big fight over oil drilling in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is yet to come, and environmentalists
are likely to prevail on it.
The Senate will take that up when lawmakers return after a two-week
Easter recess and try to wrap up the bill.
Whatever the Senate finally approves will have to be merged with
an energy bill from the Republican-run House that is far friendlier
to industry and
anathema to environmentalists. It focuses heavily on increasing
development of fossil fuels and would open to oil companies the
Arctic refuge -- a place
environmentalists have vowed to protect.
"The environmentalists are very unhappy to the point of despairing,"
said David Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, an
for the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation. "They
see House and Senate bills with nothing on fuel economy ... nothing
to save oil to speak
Anna Aurilio, legislative director of the U.S. Public Interest
Research Group, said the Senate legislation "started as a promising
bill. But it's getting
hijacked ... by the polluters."
On issues large and small, some of the most powerful business
interest groups roaming the halls of Congress -- automakers, the
oil industry, electric
utilities and farm groups -- have scored significant victories,
often turning back initiatives pushed by environmentalists.
Farmers won a government mandate for tripling ethanol production.
Large utilities headed off attempts at new federal regulation of
power grids and
won a scaled-back renewable-fuels requirement. The nuclear industry
is getting government help to develop its next generation of power
continued limits on accident liability.
And the oil industry no longer has to contend with a federal requirement
for oxygen in gasoline, or whether an oil-exploration method known
"hydraulic fracturing" might run afoul of clean-water
All of those victories pale next to the coup by the auto industry,
which now has the certainty it will not face tougher federal auto
requirements anytime soon.
Ignoring pleas from environmentalists, the Senate rejected a proposal
to boost the federal fleet requirement to 35 miles per gallon, an
increase of 50
percent, and barred any increase in fuel economy requirements for
pickup trucks, one-fifth of the vehicles sold.
They "handed our nation's energy security over to the auto
industry," fumed Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra
Club. Automakers and auto
unions lobbied vigorously against the fuel economy increases and
supported a measure that instead would require the Transportation
address the issue down the road.
When the House passed its energy bill, environmental leaders denounced
it as a sop to industry with too much emphasis on traditional energy
-- oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear -- and far too little on promoting
efficiency or renewables like solar and wind power.
"We thought the Senate was a tremendous opportunity to focus
more on demand, look more closely at conservation and efficiency
... instead of
(industry) subsidies," said Sierra Club lobbyist Melinda Pierce.
"In all counts we have failed to make gains; in fact, we have
Among the other setbacks cited by environmentalists is what they
view as the erosion of a once-ambitious attempt to make utilities
electricity from renewable fuels such as solar, wind and biomass
from wood and agricultural scraps.
A proposal by Sen. James Jeffords, a Vermont independent, to require
that 20 percent of the nation's electricity come from these energy
rejected outright. To broaden support, Democrats pushed for a 10
percent renewable-fuels requirement but exempted municipal and federally
utilities and electric cooperatives.
The result, environmentalists maintain, is that only about 5 percent
of the nation's electricity is likely to come from these renewable
sources by 2020.
Environmentalists also were surprised by the Senate's vote to
add a provision to treat some salvage timber in federal forests,
including trees as large as
12 inches in diameter, as a biomass energy source.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said it would help thin the forests
of diseased and scrap wood and keep some Western biomass plants
in business. U.S.
PIRG's Aurilio countered that it amounts to "cutting down our
national forests in the name of renewable energy."
The bill is S.517.
On the Net: