Hi folks, Eli Hopson here with a little recap now that we Washington representatives have a little time to breathe after the tumult of the Energy Bill. Nothing in D.C. ever seems to be as straightforward or simple as it should be, a fact I am reminded of as many of my friends ask me about what’s going on with the House version of the Energy Bill. They are puzzled as to how a Democratic majority in the House has just passed a bill without even considering fuel economy standards.
Am I disappointed? Frustrated? They ask. Well, yes, it would have been nice to have a decisive vote on the floor of the House and settle the issue. But because we succeeded in passing increased fuel economy as part of the Senate energy bill, the issue is still very much on the table when the House-Senate conference committee meets after Labor Day. And House leadership, both Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), have stated their strong support for increasing fuel economy standards. So by the time this bill is ready to be signed by the president, it should have an increase for fuel economy standards—and with a bit more hard work, a meaningful one—which will help it live up to its energy independence billing.
What is clear at the end of the day is that this is not a victory for the foot-dragging automakers, who were pushing a much weaker alternative to the Markey (D-MA)–Platts (R-PA) bill we support that would lock in the Senate’s 35 mpg standard. Although their cosponsor list has been growing, mostly with the names of long-time CAFE opponents, they did not have the votes to pass their bill. While it may not seem like much on the surface, this actually represents a major sea-change in the House. For the past two decades, the House has been the trusted ally of the automakers to prevent any efforts to strengthen fuel economy standards. The fact that the Auto Alliance was working to pass a bill that increased fuel economy standards, albeit quite marginally, with House Democratic leadership ready to accept the stronger Senate position, is indeed a major change for the good.
So where do we go from here? The next step in “how a bill becomes a law” is the conference committee, a fairly obtuse process, where differences between the two legislative bodies are ironed out, and sometimes new pieces randomly find their way in. We will be working to include the strongest fuel economy increase possible, ideally along the lines of Mr. Markey’s bill. None of this will happen in August as Congress has headed home to rest up, meet with their constituents, and escape the D.C. swelter (105 degree heat index today—yeesh). But with oil at more than $75 a barrel, I’m sure they’ll be hearing plenty about gas prices from the voters, and we’ll be here with a solution when they get back.
And while I work on vehicles issues, I would be remiss to not point out the fact that we had a major victory on the energy side. The House, for the first time in its history, passed a renewable electricity standard (RES) that requires utilities to obtain at least 15 percent of their power from a combination of energy efficiency and renewable sources such as wind, solar, and biomass by 2020. You can read more about this accomplishment here. As Scott mentioned in the last blog, those folks really pushing for plugin hybrid development should be especially happy about the RES (and working to ensure its inclusion in the final energy bill, as the Senate did not include it). The cleaner the electricity grid is, the more benefits we would see from vehicles powered by it.
Enjoy the rest of your summer, as no doubt things will be hopping again come September.
Posted by: Eli