Energy & Environment

Proposed EPA rules could hurt job growth

When the new Congress convened in Washington this month, jobs and economic growth were immediately identified as legislative priorities.

In a welcome indication of their seriousness, members of both parties have called for regulatory relief as necessary for creating a strong and sustained economic recovery. 


Water, water everywhere... except for California's farms (Rep. Tom McClintock)

The Department of Interior issued an announcement yesterday that perfectly illustrates the irrationality of our current approach to water issues.

California’s precipitation this season has gone off the charts. Statewide snow water content is 198 percent of normal; in the all-important Northern Sierra snowpack is 174 percent of normal. This is not only a wet year – it is one of the wettest years on record. 


Fuel-efficient vehicles are the way to go

When electric vehicles got all the buzz at the L.A. Auto Show, that was no surprise, since the biggest California auto show has long been known as the “green” auto show.  However, when electric vehicles replaced muscle cars as the central theme of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, that is news.  It signals the end of the most remarkable and perhaps important (certainly the most tumultuous) decade in the history of the automobile industry  With two automakers coming out of bankruptcy and a whole new approach to cars and trucks emerging, it also signals a new beginning for the U.S. automakers.

Ironically, the Prius, the most successful hybrid electric vehicle in U.S. history, was introduced by Toyota in 2000 at the same time that GM introduced the Hummer II.  The different fates of the two companies in the ensuing decade are stunning.  Last year the Prius sold 900,000 units worldwide -- while GM was in bankruptcy and the Hummer II all but disappeared.  My goal with this comparison is not to beat up on the U.S. automakers. Rather it is to focus the attention of policymakers, automakers and the public on some important lessons that can help us avoid the mistakes of the past.


Congress' much needed gift to beleaguered sharks

Before adjourning last month, Congress spread some good will toward our world’s sharks, which have suffered from an unwarranted bad reputation ever since they first hit the big screen several decades ago. The portrayal of sharks as mindless, man-eating killing machines couldn’t be further from reality.  

On the contrary, sharks have more reason to be afraid of humans. Our fears combined with our appetites have made humans an unnaturally effective and efficient predator of sharks. That is why it’s encouraging that Congress took an important first step by passing the Shark Conservation Act of 2009.  The new law is by no means perfect but it is a good entry point for an aquatic species that is under duress, especially when you consider that roughly 73 million sharks are killed each year. That’s about 200,000 per day. Some shark populations have declined by as much as 94 percent over the past four decades. Much of the death comes senselessly in the name of making of a delicacy known as shark fin soup. 


Getting to the bottom of the Gulf oil spill (Rep. Fred Upton)

With rising energy prices and growing global demand, the last thing America can afford is to lock away our own resources and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Our goal must be an ‘all of the above’ strategy that safely and responsibly develops American-made energy. 

The Commission’s report is one of several investigations into the Deepwater Horizon spill, and its findings will be among those considered as we work to prevent this type of disaster from ever being repeated. That’s why it is disappointing that, even after completing its final report, the commission has left unanswered the fundamental question of what went wrong. Rather than clearly identifying the root cause of this unprecedented
disaster, the commission’s report is limited to general assertions about the enforcement agencies and industry as a whole.


The royal forests (Rep. Tom McClintock)

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) delivered the following remarks on the House floor on Friday:

Mr. Speaker:

Much of my district comprises forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Over the last two years, I have received a growing volume of complaints protesting the increasingly exclusionary and elitist policies of this agency.

These complaints charge the Forest Service, among other things, with:

• Imposing inflated fees that are forcing the abandonment of family cabins held for generations;

• Charging exorbitant new fees that are closing down long-established community events upon which many small and struggling mountain towns depend for tourism;

• Expelling long-standing grazing operations on specious grounds – causing damage both to the local economy and the federal government’s revenues; and

• Obstructing the sound management of our forests through a policy that can only be described as benign neglect, creating both severe fire dangers and massive unemployment.


Cutting food safety is playing with fire (Rep. Rosa DeLauro)

In the last week of 2010, as families gathered together for the holidays and home-cooked meals, the Food and Drug Administration warned us of a salmonella outbreak in alfalfa sprouts that had already sickened nearly 100 people in at least fifteen states.

These dangerous outbreaks in contaminated food can happen at any time, and it requires constant vigilance to keep Americans safe. That is why, in the first week of 2011, the president signed into law the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act – to strengthen our antiquated food safety system for the first time since 1938, and give FDA the tools and resources it needs to fulfill its mandate.

Yet the Republicans, who took control of the House of Representatives yesterday, are now vowing to cut funding for the Food and Drug Administration, and thereby gut the new food safety law before it can even take effect. This is a terrible idea, and it moves us in the wrong direction on food safety.


EPA approval of E15 hurts consumers

When you fill up your car, truck, boat, snowmobile, motorcycle, or outdoor power equipment with gasoline, you expect the fuel will be safe and reliable. American petroleum refiners have been manufacturing fuel that meets these expectations for more than 100 years.

Refiners have been in business so long because they understand that customer service must always be their top priority, and that means producing fuels that meet the highest standards of quality.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency acted prematurely in October to approve a fuel that has not been adequately tested – a mixture of gasoline and 15 percent ethanol (E15) – for use in cars and light trucks made since the 2007 model year.


Congress gave biofuels breathing room for constructive debate on future policies

If the bipartisanship that manifested itself in the recent lame-duck session is prologue, 2011 can be the year when folks who have grown hoarse shouting at each other can finally reason together about barrier-breaking approaches to America’s future. American biofuels provide one such issue.

By extending the incentives for producing and using ethanol for one year, Congress has set the stage for a wide-ranging debate about public policies to encourage American biofuels.

Now that we need not worry about our short-term survival, the American biofuels industry can take the long view and craft a comprehensive proposal that reflects fiscal realties as well as our nation’s energy needs. We hope our critics will respond in a similar spirit.

The discussion of biofuels’ future should be founded upon an appreciation for three fundamental facts:

First, the federal government has spurred private investment in energy sources of all kinds. Oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric – all have benefited from tax or other incentives.

Many of these subsidies have lasted much longer than those for ethanol. All pale in comparison to the estimated $280 billion-a-year in federal subsidies for the highly lucrative petroleum industry that resulted in oil’s virtual monopoly over the U.S. transportation fuel market.

Nor is energy the only sector that benefits from public as well as private investment. Promising technologies, from railroads to the Internet, have been spurred by government support, particularly during their early years. With all these subsidies, the question is whether the nation is reaping returns commensurate with the magnitude of the investment.

Second, public investment in ethanol is reaping returns, now and for the future: 10.75 billion gallons of the biofuel produced in 2009 alone; nearly 400,000 non-exportable, direct and indirect high-paying green jobs; $53.3 billion added to the Gross Domestic Product and $15.9 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues; a 20 to 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to gasoline; and the replacement of more than 360 million barrels of imported oil, much of it from unfriendly or unstable governments.

With efficiency improvements in today’s industry and technological advances in new processes and feedstocks, American biofuels are the only viable replacement for declining oil resources.

But ethanol producers and public policymakers need to face up to the third fact: When it comes to incentives, the status quo is no longer sustainable, whether in terms of the nation’s fiscal realities or biofuels’ future.

With the current condition and growing concern about the federal deficit, the biofuels industry recognizes that we are not exempt from belt-tightening. We need to develop a 21st century tax policy for a 21st century industry.

Yes, the members of the Renewable Fuels Association were committed to extending the current tax incentive structure during 2010. We understood that some underlying market certainty was required to set the stage for responsible reforms that allow the industry to continue to innovate, grow, and mature.

Now, let’s consider not only how we can sustain existing biofuel technologies, but also how we can support the development of new and emerging biofuel technologies. Let’s provide the incentives that the private sector needs to install the essential infrastructure to provide consumers with options at the pump. And let’s produce the vehicles that are needed to use these options.

In short, we need a comprehensive energy policy that recognizes the differences between energy sources that are depleting and those that are developing and between aging technologies and advanced technologies. We must not allow foreign competitors to seize growing markets at America’s expense.

As the debate resumes, there is no shortage of ideas about new policies on tax incentives and other issues. Some are more fully thought-out. Others lack essential details. But none should be rejected out-of-hand.

Those who have been critical of ethanol should take a fresh and objective look at the industry today. Those within the industry should be willing to work with our critics. Just as maintaining the status quo should not be an option, neither should simply allowing the ethanol industry to wither on the vine, leaving a 10 percent void in the market that can only be filled by increased and significantly more costly oil imports. That course is neither fiscally responsible nor environmentally sustainable.

In extending ethanol incentives, Congress did the right thing. It’s time for the ethanol industry and our critics to do the right thing, too, and define the future, instead of dwelling on the past.

Bob Dinneen is president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, the national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry.


Ethanol tax credit levels the playing field

Amid the recent debate over the ethanol tax credit, the broader vision of our country’s energy future seems to have been forgotten by many.

But the ethanol industry and America’s farmers have not forgotten that vision.

We remain focused on a future where every driver in America can pull up to a fuel station and choose for themselves how much or how little ethanol they would like to use.

We are focused on a future where the oil industry no longer has a choke-hold on the entire fuel distribution web that blankets the nation.

We are focused on freedom.

So how does the ethanol industry reconcile the concept of “freedom” with that of “tax credit?”  It is a fair question.

The tax credit was deemed necessary in the first place to offset some of the advantages enjoyed by an unchallenged oil industry. Priorities other than cost - such as jobs, economic development, national security and the environment - were deemed important enough to support developing a robust renewable fuel industry.

The oil industry has been entrenched as the dominant transportation fuel for almost a century. It receives subsidies and tax breaks like no one else, subsidies and breaks that are written into the tax code with no sunset, whereas the renewable fuel industry has to come back and ask for extensions, reigniting the debate every couple of years.