How much energy was wasted on this legislation?

If the Senate energy bill were a movie it would be called “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” That’s because the massive legislation, which passed 65 to 27 late Thursday, is a mix of historic action, missed opportunities and outright cowardice.

I do like the Washington Post’s turn of phrase. Yes the Senate muddled out its Energy Bill last week. A requirement that utilities use 15% renewable energy was dropped, and an amendment to establish a carbon registry (for later use in any system of carbon taxation or trading) was defeated. Boo. Some USD32bn in incentives for renewable energy developers was also dropped. Money for carbon sequestration studies is good, as is the mentioned defeat of adding money for coal-to-liquid “boondoggle”, as the Washington Post likes to call it. I would use worse words, but then I don’t like coal.

The ‘good’, meanwhile – and this is not peculiar to the Washington Post – is the increase in CAFE standards. Originally put together post-’73, they haven’t come very far at all in 34 years (they’re currently 27.5 mpg for cars. 20.7 mpg for light trucks), which is amusing when you consider that the coming oil crunch will be permanent, not 90 days. The new standards in the Senate version of the bill is 35 mpg for all vehicles by 2020.

I find this laughable, for the simple reason that anyone not producing cars making at least 50 mpg by 2020 will be out of business. And that’s assuming there even is a business for petro-vehicles in 2020. As it stands, and as I’ve mentioned previously, since 2005, the number of cars available in the US that reached 40 miles-per-gallon or more had fallen from 5 to only 2. In Europe meanwhile, the number of such cars available had increased from 86 to 113. The US is slow, but it isn’t mentally defective. This bizarre imbalance will not last. The Senate compromised to get this far, dropping a 4% p.a. improvement in CAFE standards after 2020. I don’t think it counts for much – I really do believe these are numbers the Auto industry will find itself having to meet long before then.

Oddly, Auto spokespeople objected to any new CAFE standards, as they have always done, insisting that the Auto industry is struggling, etc. (a), I fail to see why we should all pay an environmental, social, resoure, etc. cost for their industrial problems, and (b) I can’t imagine engine design and CAFE standards are the problem, surely. Bloody lobbyist parasites.

So, for me, I don’t think much at all happened in this legislation, for all the hand-wringing. Even Tom Friedman agrees, for God’s sake (that’s behind the stupid Times Select firewall).

On to this week, then, it is the turn of Congress to come up with an Energy Bill. So far it looks like theirs will have incentives, but far fewer (USD16bn-ish, and for users, more than research/innovation). It also looks like more compromises will occur.

Rifts within their ranks, however, are forcing House Democrats to postpone some tough issues until fall – a move that could complicate coming to terms with the Senate once an energy bill clears the House.

At the heart of the House struggle over energy policy is a standoff between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan, a powerful committee chairman with long-standing ties to the auto industry.

He’s one of the people crying over the frailty of the Auto industry. I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, but like I said – CAFE standards just aren’t likely to be what kills them. Protecting Detroit from international competitiveness is hardly going to do them much good in the long-run, but then I reckon John Dingell isn’t planning on staying in Congress until 2020, so his priorities might not be my priorities.

The differences, of course, go to conference. Which I’ve never liked, but perhaps with the houses in Democratic hands it might be less insidious a force in modern legislating than it has been in recent years.

There isn’t much news yet of Congress’ progress, but that ought to change. The Oil Drum is worth watching, for ongoing discussion.

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