Democrats Improve, Amend Committee Energy Package; Urge More Work Before House Consideration
Today, the U.S. House Committee on Science considered a package of energy legislation intended to address America’s energy challenges - H.R.5656, Energy Research, Development, Demonstration, and Commercial Application Act of 2006.
Democrats generally supported the bill - which contained many of their amendments - but they also urged the Majority to include other needed provisions as the bill moves forward.
"Whether we are talking about our increasing reliance on foreign sources of energy, looming environmental concerns, or the high cost of gas and electricity, Congress should respond with forward-looking, aggressive, and sensible energy legislation," stated Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). "The measure before us today contains many important provisions, however unresolved issues remain and I hope we can come to an agreement on how to handle them before the bill is considered on the floor."
One area of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans was a means to speed cutting-edge energy technologies to consumers. Last fall, Rep. Gordon introduced H.R. 4435, the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) Act. Establishment of an ARPA-E was recommended in last October’s widely acknowledged National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The report called ARPA-E - modeled after successful research and technology development programs like DARPA - the key to producing "transformational research that could lead to new ways of fueling the nation and its economy."
Today, Rep. Gordon offered that bill as an amendment to H.R. 5656 and the Majority defeated his amendment.
U.S. Senate legislation on competitiveness and innovation includes an ARPA-E provision and Science Democrats will continue to pursue a measure of equal stature in the House.
Democrat amendments included in the Manager’s Amendment to H.R. 5656:
- Baird (D-WA) - Changed Building Grant Program to maximize the leverage of private investment for costs related to increasing the energy efficiency of a building.
- Johnson (D-TX) - Worked with Mrs. Jackson Lee to include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority Serving Institutions, as participants in Section 10 (Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles), and Section 11 (Photovoltaic Demo). Also ensured that proposals for housing to be used by low-to-moderate income populations are included in Section 12 (Building Grant Program).
- Miller (D-NC) - Major revisions were made to Section 13 (Energy Extension), to ensure that Mr. Miller’s provision in EPACT 2005, Sect. 917 (established a national network of Advanced Energy Technology Transfer Centers) was preserved.
- Honda (D-CA) - Addressed concerns that costs of implementation of GNEP as well as full consideration of the life-cycle and clean-up costs were fully incorporated into text.
- Costello (D-IL) - Revises FutureGen language, including striking authorization of appropriations and adding language on data protection and contributions from public and private sources.
The Manager’s Amendment was accepted by voice vote.
"The improvements included in this bill to get energy efficiency technologies into practical use now make that a truly bipartisan idea. I hope Science Committee Republicans will join with me in working to secure funding for the program," added Rep. Miller on his amendment included in the Manager’s Amendment.
Democratic Amendments considered en bloc:
- Gordon - Biofuels and Ultra-Low-Sulfur Diesel Infrastructure R&D (H.R. 5658). This addresses fundamental incompatibilities with the present day petroleum-based infrastructure and bio-based fuels and/or ULSD and LSD.
- Matsui (D-CA) - Amendment seeks to ensure that the DOE National Laboratory system maintains a core competency all forms of renewable energies, and programs are funded as intended in EPACT 2005.
- Green (D-NY) - Bioplastics R&D. This amends a section of EPACT to authorize funding for R&D on natural plastics grown in cellulosic biomass crops.
- Woolsey (D-CA) - Changes the definition of Energy Efficient Building in Section 12 to require more energy savings (30%) beyond ASHRAE standards.
- Jackson Lee (D-TX) - Includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions as a priority applicants for grant awards.
The en bloc amendments were accepted by voice vote.
"Increasing incentives to build energy efficient buildings can help lower pollution levels and save consumers money on their energy bills. It’s a great investment and a win-win proposition," said Rep. Baird, who offered two amendments concerning energy efficiency. "Upgrading HVAC systems to meet ENERGY STAR standards not only improves air quality in the home and workplace, but can also cut the average home’s utility bills by 20 percent. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, if just one household in 10 bought ENERGY STAR heating and cooling equipment we could keep over 17 billion pounds of pollution out of our air."
Other Democratic Amendments Offered:
- Baird - Amends the definition of Energy Efficient Building in the Building Demonstration program to make sure that heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in buildings designed with grants under this program use either HVAC systems that perform at or better than ENERGY STAR standards or if ENERGY STAR standards are not available, that they use FEMP-recommended HVAC products. This amendment has energy and cost savings as well as air quality improvement implications. (Accepted by voice vote.)
- Gordon - Energy Efficiency Technology Demonstration Fund - This amendment (H.R. 5659) establishes a revolving loan program for Federal agencies to fund the demonstration of energy efficiency technologies in the construction or renovation of buildings, especially technologies developed through Federal funding. (Mr. Gordon withdrew the amendment upon assurances of inclusion during floor consideration of the bill.)
- Gordon - ARPA-E. As mentioned, the amendment in the nature of a substitute included in Section 15 of the Managers Amendment simply tells the Department of Energy and the National Academies of Science to go back and consider ARPA-E again. This Gordon amendment (H.R. 4435) takes that language a step further and authorizes the establishment of an ARPA-E program at the Department. (The amendment failed by voice vote.)
- Costello - FutureGen - Removes Section 3, the FutureGen authorization, and inserts new language, supported by the FutureGen Alliance, to authorize the FutureGen Initiative according to the goals and objectives set forth by the Department of Energy’s plan submitted to Congress. (Mr. Costello withdrew the amendment.)
- Costello - Provides grants to states to research, develop, and demonstrate the feasibility of using coal gasificiation technology as the fuel source for ethanol production. (The amendment failed by voice vote.)
"I have been closely involved with FutureGen since the project was first proposed in 2003, and it is progressing well," stated Rep. Costello. "While we worked hard to reach an agreement, there is serious concern on behalf of those involved in the project that the current language will impede our ability to ensure FutureGen reaches its potential. Developing the technologies to burn coal as cleanly as natural gas is extremely important for our future energy independence, and we must get this right. In the same vein, the Committee should embrace opportunities to further the applications for coal gasification, and its use in powering ethanol plants is a great fit for this technology. I will continue to work with the Committee as we move forward."
H.R.5656 passed the Committee by voice vote and was reported favorably to the House for consideration.