Today the Senate began debating a comprehensive energy bill (S. 517, "The Energy Policy Act"), sponsored by Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), that would increase vehicle fuel efficiency; reduce our dependence on foreign oil; and encourage development of cleaner, more efficient energy sources. But big oil companies, electric utilities and automakers are trying to eviscerate the bill with crippling amendments, many sponsored by senators beholden to them for campaign contributions. NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council) has identified some likely amendments and their sponsors, and has connected them with their campaign contributors. Some key senators to watch include Thad Cochran, Larry Craig, Jon Kyl, Carl Levin, Frank Murkowski and George Voinovich. They collectively received hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interests, and reporters should scrutinize their amendments with this in mind. (Note: All campaign contribution information below is from the Center for Responsive Politics, www.opensecrets.org.)
An amendment killing the proposed higher standard for fuel efficiency
As drafted, the Senate bill would require automakers to boost average vehicle fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon by 2013, a significant effort to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is expected to offer an amendment that would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the responsibility for deciding what to do about CAFE (corporate average fuel efficiency) standards. NHTSA likely would embrace the Bush administration's goal of increasing average fuel efficiency less than 1 mile per gallon. Sen. Levin's fifth top contributor between 1997 and 2000 was the automotive industry, which gave him $42,800. During that time period, General Motors ($24,000), was his top individual corporate contributor. The senator also received $19,900 in PAC money from the transportation sector in 2001-2002.
An amendment opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development
Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) surely will attempt to attach his pet project -- drilling in the Arctic Refuge -- to the Senate energy bill. The senator received more money from electric utilities ($221,056) and the oil and gas industry ($157,779) than any other industry between 1997 and 2000. His top 10 individual contributors, which collectively gave him $155,723, were all energy companies or energy trade groups, including the Edison Electric Institute, American Electric Power (the largest utility in the country) and Chevron Texaco. In 2001-2002, the senator also received $22,000 in political action committee (PAC) contributions from energy and natural resource sources, three times more than he received from any other sector.
An amendment weakening a new efficiency standard for air conditioners
Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is pushing an amendment that would undermine a new standard for air conditioner efficiency by replacing it with a lower standard. The new standard would save more than 60,000 megawatts (MW) of peak electricity demand by 2030 -- the rough equivalent of 204 mid-size power plants; save consumers billions of dollars in electric bills; and cut millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Many utility companies support the new standard, but apparently it's not in the interest of Sen. Cochran's campaign contributors. From 1997 to 2000, electric utilities ($26,500) and oil and gas companies ($25,500) were among the senator's top 10 industrial contributors. His top 10 individual contributors included Southern Co., a major coal company ($8,000), and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association ($7,000). The senator also received $49,000 from energy and natural resources PACs in the 2001-2002 election cycle.
An amendment weakening a new "renewable energy" portfolio standard
Renewable energy sources, such as wind, biomass, geothermal and solar power, could supply as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2020. Regardless, Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) likely will attempt to weaken a market-based mechanism requiring utilities to gradually increase the portion of electricity they produce from renewable energy sources to 10 percent by 2020. Sen. Murkowski's funding portfolio is discussed above. Sen. Craig's top 10 industrial contributors between 1997 and 2000 included electric utilities (No. 1 at $76,550), the oil and gas industry ($48,000) and the mining industry ($38,123). His top individual corporate contributor over that time period was the FPL Group ($12,000), an energy company whose main holding is Florida Power & Light. Two other energy companies, Chevron Texaco and the Entergy Corporation, each anted up $7,000, tying for the tenth spot. In the 2001-2002 election cycle, Craig was the third top Senate recipient for money from the coal industry and fourth top recipient for mining industry contributions. During the last election cycle he also received $127,284 from energy and natural resources PACs, 40 percent more than he received from any other PAC source. Sen. Kyl's top 20 industrial contributors between 1997 and 2000 included electric utilities ($65,750), the oil and gas industry ($63,299) and the mining industry ($59,881). His third highest individual corporate benefactor was Pinnacle West Capital ($25,250), whose major subsidiary is Arizona Public Service, an electric power company. In the 2001-2002 election cycle he also received $3,500 from energy and natural resources PACs.
An amendment that would restrict public review of energy projects
George Voinovich (R-Ohio) likely will offer an amendment that would "streamline" the permitting process for electricity transmission lines and energy facilities on federal lands. By speeding up the process, this amendment would limit public participation and scientific review of energy projects on public lands. Sen. Voinovich received $163,292 from the oil and gas industry and $99, 707 from electric utilities between 1997 and 2000. General Electric ($25,350) was among his top 10 individual corporate donors. During the 2001-2002 election cycle, he also received $63,517 from energy and natural resources PACs, more than twice what he received from any other sector.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.