OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sen. Alexander readies plan to strip energy subsidies

“I think we ought to look at all energy across the board, not just big oil, but big wind, big everything else and get a rational policy,” he said.

Alexander’s comments come as Democrats are pressing Vice President Biden to ensure that any deficit deal reached as part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling should repeal billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks.

But Alexander was cool to the idea that energy tax subsidies should be addressed through the Biden-led talks, which he is not a participant in.

 “I don’t think the vice president is engaged in a tax reform exercise. I think this is a separate exercise, but during a time when we are looking at the deficit and looking for different ways to deal with it, unwarranted tax breaks ought to be part of the discussion,” Alexander said.

“The Biden discussion is not about tax reform, and this is tax reform,” he added. Alexander said money saved from nixing energy tax subsidies should be used in multiple ways.

“We ought to take the money we are now spending for permanent subsidies and one appropriate use would be to fund energy research, but given the size of the deficit we ought to use the rest of the money to either reduce the debt or to lower marginal tax rates,” he said.

NEWS BITES:

Castor in line to replace Weiner on House Energy panel

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) is in line to replace outgoing Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Castor served on the panel in the last Congress, but lost her seat when Republicans took over the House. She is the most senior of the seven Democrat that lost their seats last year.

Castor’s office confirmed Thursday that she is in line to replace Weiner, who resigned Thursday, on the committee.

“The state of Florida is a dynamic state at the forefront of the committee’s key issues: Medicare, environment, travel, tourism and interstate commerce,” Castor said in a statement. “I will fight for jobs in these industries to put Florida’s economy back on track.”

The House Steering and Policy Committee needs to approve the move before Castor can join the panel.

Conrad unveils sweeping energy bill


Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) introduced sweeping energy legislation Thursday aimed at expanding offshore drilling, promoting low-carbon energy sources and developing electric and alternative vehicle technology.

Conrad was a leading member of a bipartisan group of senators, dubbed a "gang," who worked to develop an energy compromise in the summer of 2008, when gas prices reached a record high. The legislation echoes many of the provisions offered in the gang's proposals.

The bill mandates that the Interior Department conduct lease sales in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. It gives the mid- and south-Atlantic states the choice about drilling off their shores. And it establishes an “offshore safety office” at the Interior Department.

The legislation extends tax incentives for alternative fuels, including ethanol, as well as for energy efficient homes. It requires that the Department of Energy develop a “clean energy standard" that promotes the use of renewable and other low-carbon sources of electricity.

The bill provides a tax credit of between $500 and $2,500 for the purchase of vehicles that get more than 50 miles per gallon. And it sets aside $36 billion in additional nuclear loan guarantee authority.

Conrad and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) recently convened a revised version of the energy "gang" that worked together in 2008 but ultimately failed, coalesced around a specific bill.

Klobuchar: Ethanol vote was ‘no surprise'

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said after the Senate voted to strip a major ethanol industry tax break that discussions will continue to find a compromise on ethanol policy.

Klobuchar voted against Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) successful amendment. The Minnesota senator is pushing a plan with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) that would reduce and phase out the blender's credit while extending other incentives.

“It should come as no surprise that there is support for phasing out the current ethanol tax credit, the question is when and how. We are continuing to work on a bipartisan compromise that will allow for a reasonable way forward for the biofuels industry and provide significant deficit reduction,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

Feinstein told reporters after the vote on her amendment that she is meeting with Klobuchar, Thune, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), noting they are "trying to see if there is a compromise in this thing that does what we need to do vis-a-vis deficit reduction and in some way eases it a bit."

Coburn, who is Feinstein's co-sponsor on legislation to end ethanol tax breaks, told reporters Thursday that Reid had offered ethanol supporters a vehicle to try and move a plan that would seek to boost ethanol infrastructure and cellulosic ethanol, a next-wave fuel. Reid’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Poll: Public favors EPA imposing stronger air rules

The public largely favors the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose more stringent air pollution regulations, a new poll by the American Lung Association says.

About 70 percent of those polled in four regions of the country either strongly favor (45 percent) or somewhat favor (25 percent) EPA “updating standards with stricter limits on air pollution.” About 22 percent oppose those efforts.

In addition, 72 percent of those polled say they strongly or somewhat believe Congress should not prevent the EPA from implementing stronger air regulations. Twenty-two percent say Congress should block EPA air rules.

The group polled likely voters in four regions of the country: Florida, Ohio and Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and North Caroline and Virginia.

The American Lung Association has mounted a campaign against Republicans and moderate Democrats who have sought to roll back EPA air regulations.

Solar industry sees growth in first quarter

The U.S. solar industry saw considerable growth in the first quarter of 2011, the Solar Energy Industries Association said Thursday.

According to the industry group’s data, the United States saw a 66 percent year-over-year increase in installed photovoltaics when compared to the first quarter of 2010.

SEIA attributes the increase to lower solar energy equipment costs and “a rush to take advantage of the Section 1603 Treasury program that was expected to expire in 2010 (the program was eventually extended through the end of 2011).”

Read the executive summary of Thursday’s report.

ON TAP FRIDAY:

Sutley to talk clean energy at United Negro College Fund

Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley will talk about clean energy at the United Negro College Fund’s Building Green Learning Institute. Sutley “will highlight the role of educational institutions in our country’s clean energy future, and the Obama Administration’s work to support a competitive 21st century economy that provides jobs and opportunities for a new generation of leaders,” according to an advisory.

Salazar to tout solar in California

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will travel to California Friday for the groundbreaking of what is being touted as the world’s largest solar project on public land.

The 1,000-megawatt Solar Trust of America Renewable (STAR) Energy Station Blythe Project is located in Riverside County, Calif. The Interior Department says it will power 300,000 to 750,000 homes and result in 1,066 temporary construction jobs and 295 permanent jobs

Interior says the project “marks a major milestone in the nation’s march toward a renewable energy economy.”

The project is part of a broader effort by the Interior Department to encourage renewable energy development on public lands. Salazar signed an agreement with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 to encourage renewable development on lands in the state.

Salazar will be joined at the event by Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, as well as California officials.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Here’s a quick roundup of Thursday’s E2 stories:

- GOP demands major industry voice on federal gas ‘fracking’ panel
- House Dems press Biden to nix oil industry tax breaks in deficit deal
- Ethanol industry downplays subsidy vote as close tally looms
- Top nuke regulator defends his tenure: ‘I hold people accountable’
- Interior to hold lease sale this year in Alaska petroleum reserve
- Senate kills off ethanol tax credits in possible break with tax pledge
- Obama official slams Senate vote against ethanol tax credit

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @E2Wire, @AndrewRestuccia, @Ben_Geman