Climate Bill Would Encourage Alternative Fuels, Expand Offshore Drilling
A mix of electric cars, natural gas and offshore drilling. Can it pass?
If the American Power Act becomes law, it could mean a whole new round of subsidies and tax credits for green cars, and aggressive cuts to emissions. The bill would aim to gradually slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 4.75 percent by 2013, 17 percent by 2020, 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050.
But the legislation also includes an offshore drilling expansion that many thought was all but dead in the wake of an explosion at a drilling platform off the coast of Louisiana that killed 11 workers and sent millions of gallons of oil gushing into the ocean. The agency in charge of regulating offshore rigs now stands accused of illegally rubber-stamping some drilling proposals, including the approval it gave to the Deepwater Horizon rig involved in the recent spill.
The repeal of a ban on offshore drilling off the Eastern seaboard has led to threats from congresspeople like Sen. Bill Nelson to vote against the bill, and highlights a discrepancy in the administration’s energy goals.
On the one hand, President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have been fervent supporters of electric vehicles and have backed up their words with billions of dollars in grants for the fledgling industry. On the other, the administration seems to think that more drilling, increased supply and cheaper oil are, at the very least, political necessities to a successful energy policy. While government incentives may be capable of helping to get the first EVs rolling off of the assembly line, many analysts expect the general public to remain ambivalent about hybrids and electrics until gas prices rise significantly.
More Federal Love for EVs
The American Power Act would invest a yet-to-be-determined sum in “developing and manufacturing… advanced cars and batteries.” This money would be part of a $7 billion overall investment in improving transportation infrastructure and efficiency.
The bill also mandates the founding of a “national transportation low-emission energy plan,” which would come from a study of the need for electric-drive refueling infrastructure. The plan would recommend policies that would help to facilitate widespread plug-in adoption and charging infrastructure. The proposal is reminiscent of Canada’s Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap, which has had impressive success in spearing a series of pro-EV initiatives, and made the country one of the most hospitable in the world toward electric vehicles.
Finally, the legislation would aim to set targets for increasing overall government fleet efficiency, which could open up a big market for electric vehicle makers. Ford’s Transit Connect Electric, which will hit the market next year, is a prime candidate to pave the way for an electrified federal fleet.
A Boon for Pickens
After years of lobbying on behalf of compressed natural gas transportation, T. Boone Pickens may have finally scored a victory for the fuel he has re-dedicated his life to promoting. The Texas billionaire, who built his fortune as an oil man, had said recently that he expected the support of the White House in pushing to turn the American trucking industry on to CNG. It would appear that he was right. Generous incentives would be included to convert commercial trucking fleets to compressed natural gas and to encourage the manufacture of CNG vehicles. The federal government would also conduct a study to find ways to increase the number of natural gas vehicles in the federal fleet.
But Can They Pass it?
Thanks in part to the drilling expansion, what has long been referred to as “the climate bill” enjoys the unlikely support of both the petroleum industry and most environmental groups, though it’s far from what most of them had in mind.
The bill’s co-author, Senator John Kerry, wrote on Grist.org that “a comprehensive climate bill written purely for you and me—true believers—can’t pass the Senate no matter how hard or passionately I fight on it.” Democrats have spent the better part of a year trying to engender bipartisan support for the bill, but ultimately failed to secure a Republican co-sponsor (after LIndsey Graham declined to put his name on the bill). The Obama administration believes that it will need to wrangle at least a few Republican votes in the Senate to pass the legislation and avoid a filibuster.