Renewable portfolio standards

There is a strong consensus among the American public about energy. Americans overwhelmingly believe that our nation must move faster and go further to secure its energy future. The energy bill that the Senate passed June 21 by a vote of 65-27 makes measurable progress in that direction.

The 2-to-1 margin of senators who consistently supported this bill through its consideration were reflecting where the American people already are. They supported tapping America’s limitless capacity for innovation — and giving the results of that innovation a strong boost through federal policies — to make America more energy self-reliant.

Building a clean energy future is a grand challenge for our country, and not without opposition from various entrenched interests. We certainly saw that reflected in some of the votes on the bill in the Senate. But all of us know that tackling that grand challenge will bring us an enormous opportunity: lowering our energy costs, building a stronger economy and creating the high-paying energy jobs of the 21st century here in the United States.

A tremendous amount of bipartisan legislative effort went into bringing this bill forward. Since the outset of the 110th Congress, the Senate held more than 50 hearings on energy- and climate-related issues — that is, at least one hearing every other day.

What we were able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time is something all senators can be proud of. Let me cite three broad themes on which we made real breakthroughs:

• Boosting domestic renewable fuel supplies, in a manner that will reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and spur regional diversity of biofuels production and infrastructure.

• Enhancing economy-wide energy efficiency, in a way that will reduce our nation’s imports of foreign oil and provide significant savings to consumers.

• Investing in groundbreaking research designed to help cut back on carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

Regarding renewable energy, the Senate’s energy bill sets annual requirements for the amount of renewable fuels used in the U.S., escalating from 8.5 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons in 2022, with environmental protections that are tougher and more effective than those we have today. It requires new biofuels facilities to reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent compared to conventional gasoline — the first global warming regulatory provision ever to be passed by either house of Congress. And it provides resources to help break down infrastructure barriers to renewable fuel distribution.

On efficiency, the Senate energy bill increases auto mileage standards for the first time in decades, finding a way forward on a very difficult issue. That’s another breakthrough. Other provisions support the goal of reducing the transportation sector’s consumption of liquid fuels in general, and gasoline in particular. The bill requires the federal fleet to reduce petroleum consumption by 20 percent, federal buildings to improve their energy efficiency 30 percent and the federal government to get 15 percent of its electricity purchases from renewable energy.

To complement these initiatives, the bill invests in advanced vehicle technologies and basic science related to energy storage. It strengthens the Department of Energy’s efficiency standards program, and enacts or expedites new standards for a range of household appliances, equipment and lighting. The sum total effect of these enhanced efficiency provisions are:
• Savings of over 50 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year (enough to power 4.8 million households).

• Savings of over 17 trillion BTUs of natural gas per year (enough to heat a quarter-million homes).

• Benefits to consumers of over $12 billion.

The Senate energy bill makes a strong start on turning the idea of capturing and storing carbon dioxide into a reality. It expands and improves the DoE’s existing program on carbon capture and storage. It directs the Interior secretary to complete a national assessment of geological storage capacity for carbon dioxide. It authorizes a $100 million-a-year demonstration program on industrial-size carbon capture from a wide range of candidate facilities, including coal-to-liquid plants and other industrial gasification plants. All of these are crucial if we are to determine whether carbon capture and storage is a realistic option.

On the whole, the Senate energy bill forms the backbone of a national strategy that meets three complementary goals: boosting U.S. energy self-sufficiency; driving American leadership in clean alternative energy; and putting us on a trajectory to address the threat of global warming.

Given the growing national appetite for a new path on energy policy, I am pleased that the Senate has made meaningful progress on securing our nation’s energy future. The American people expect, and deserve, nothing less.


Bingaman is the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.



SPECIAL SECTION: Going Green
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Senate’s work on energy a good start
Buildings for the 21st Century Act would expand tax break for green construction
ANWR not answer
America’s energy future needs to be stable, diverse and affordable
Congress should deliver on its diesel pledge
Going green is patriotic and profitable