Chaos in the House but Probably No RFS—on to Conference

Our legislative director, Karen Wayland, has the following to report on the House's efforts to rap things up before leaving for the August recess.

Still no action on the House energy bill. The House got bogged down in a huge partisan food fight last night and today, and the chaos was compounded when the computer system that tallies votes broke down in the middle of a contentious vote this afternoon.  If it hadn't involved our national elected officials, the screaming matches on the House floor might actually have been funny. The result is that the House has fallen behind in its schedule of bills to complete before leaving for August recess. We expect to know which amendments will be ruled in order late this evening, then at some point tomorrow the House will take up the energy bill.

What we do know is that no CAFE amendment will be offered, so we're throwing all our resources at passing the RES [renewable electricity standard]. The amendment that was filed with Rules is now a 15% RES (down from the 20%) with 4% efficiency, and we're still out there battling for votes. Florida Governor Crist just sent a note up to the Hill opposing the RES as a "one-size-fits-all" mandate and EEI is lobbying with the same message so it's going to be tight.

We also expect a tough vote on a Republican motion to recommit that will probably have liquid coal provisions, possibly very weak CAFE language that we won't like, and other bad things designed to split the Democratic caucus, and also on the vote for final passage. Final passage has been complicated by the partisan bickering of the last 24 hours, and moderate Republicans who were inclined to vote for the bill are now being cagey about their positions.

While she doesn't mention it, we also expect that the House will not take any action on increasing the renewable fuels standard. Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD)has offered an amendment that would largely follow the same lines as what the Senate has adopted: 36 billion gallons by 2022 broken down between 15 billion gallons of "conventional biofuels" (read corn ethanol) and 21 billion gallons of "advanced biofuels" (read everything else). While the Senate bill requires that conventional biofuels have lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions 20% lower than gasoline, we think that Herseth's also requires advanced biofuels to provide 50% reductions. Herseth has also include a few important but ultimately insufficient environmental protections beyond those included in the Senate.

NRDC and the other environmental groups that we've been working closely with on biofuels issues have decided that we'd rather see the House do nothing on a renewable fuel standard in its energy bill than an incomplete measure. If the House passed something partial, then when the House and Senate appointees meet, they tend to end up somewhere in the middle. If the House simply hasn't acted, then the House conferencees have pretty wide latitude to push stronger provisions than what's in the Senate bill.

It's a risky strategy. Conference can be a wild and wooly place with a lot of quick action and side deals, but at this point it's our best chance to get a renewable fuel standard that gets biofuels right.

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