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Thứ Sáu, 30 tháng 8, 2013

New Realities Sap Appetite for Broad Energy Legislation - Wall Street Journal

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After a years-long lull, the full Senate is finally set to debate an energy bill, but the measure's slimmed-down profile represents a stark departure from the last decade.


President George W. Bush signed two energy laws, in 2005 and 2007, that rewrote government policies in every major energy sector, from natural-gas drilling to corn-based ethanol fuel. In President Barack Obama's first term, the economic-stimulus law contained billions of dollars of new federal spending to jump-start wind and solar power. And the House passed a broad bill capping greenhouse-gas emissions in 2009 that failed to make it through the Senate.


This time, the Senate is looking at budgeting about $35 million a year to help businesses conserve energy and handing out stars to the ones that do it well.


"It's a skinnied-down version," said co-sponsor Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican. "We have made some changes to it to accommodate some of the concerns, particularly that some Republicans had."


The current stasis on Capitol Hill reflects both political gridlock, which hardened after the 2010 midterm elections, and easing fears of energy insecurity thanks to a boom in U.S. oil and natural-gas production.



People in Washington still have plenty of big ideas: Environmentalists dream of a bill to address climate change, while industry supporters say the U.S. needs to open up more federal lands and ocean waters for drilling. But the lack of an impending crisis like the spike of oil prices in 2007-08 has removed the political imperative for lawmakers to take up sweeping changes.


"The new normal is no, big comprehensive bills," said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of industry and nonprofit groups.


Mr. Portman and co-sponsor Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) first unveiled their energy-conservation bill at a 2011 Capitol Hill news conference alongside executives of companies that manufacture insulation and other energy-efficiency products, including Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning .


"Action on energy policy can't wait for another election," Ms. Shaheen said at the time. The bill made it through the Energy Committee on an 18-3 vote but died without being heard on the Senate floor.


In April of this year, the senators introduced a new version that no longer included a provision authorizing government-backed loans for businesses to make energy-efficiency upgrades. Many Republicans grew skeptical of those subsidies after solar-energy firms receiving similar loans under the stimulus law filed for bankruptcy.


The new bill again cleared a committee vote by a wide margin. Then, in July, the sponsors introduced yet another version, subtracting a grant program that would help states finance energy-efficiency projects. Some lawmakers felt that provision would conflict with existing programs at the Department of Energy, according to people familiar with the matter.


The bill now authorizes about $350 million of spending over 10 years, compared with the roughly $1 billion cost of the bill that passed the energy committee in 2011. It would pay for the new programs by cutting existing funding for the Department of Energy.


The full Senate is set to take up the bill on Sept. 10.


Ms. Shaheen describes the bill as a down payment on more-ambitious legislation. "I hope we pass this bill in September and then use the momentum to further pursue bipartisan efforts to address our country's energy needs," she said.


Mr. Portman, who drives a hybrid Chevrolet pickup truck and uses air from geothermal wells to cut his heating and air-conditioning bills, said the idea that "we ought to use what we have more efficiently" is a conservative value that also has environmental benefits, making it "a terrific opportunity for us to find common ground."


If the stripped-down bill passes the Senate, it would move to the Republican-controlled House, where its prospects are less certain.


Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), the House majority whip and leader of a House working group on energy issues, said in a statement that he supports energy-efficiency goals, but "any government spending to displace natural choices made in the marketplace will cost the American taxpayer."


—Keith Johnson contributed to this article.

Write to Ryan Tracy at ryan.tracy@dowjones.com


A version of this article appeared August 30, 2013, on page A4 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: New Realities Sap Appetite for Broad Energy Legislation.







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