The 2008 National Environmental Scorecard reflects more clearly than perhaps ever before that America is truly at a crossroads when it comes to our energy future. In the face of gas prices that shot above four dollars a gallon, unrest around the world, and increasing global warming pollution, it could not be more obvious that we must reduce our dependence on oil. Yet given many opportunities to vote for energy efficiency and clean renewable energy that will turn our economy around and improve our environment, a minority in Congress clung to the failed energy policies of the past.
The 110th Congress began in 2007 with great promise of bringing about a new energy economy. Under Speaker Pelosi’s (D-CA) leadership, the House of Representatives passed a bill during the first 100 hours to repeal more than $13 billion in subsidies to oil companies and to create a fund for clean, renewable energy. The first session concluded with the passage and enactment into law of H.R. 6, the Energy Independence and Security Act, which raised the overall fuel economy of cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon — the first such increase since 1975 — and included important efficiency standards for lightbulbs, buildings and homes. The success of the first session of the 110th Congress should have led to even more progress in 2008. Unfortunately, a vocal minority of members closely allied with Big Oil instead turned the year into a series of missed opportunities and major steps backward. Although the new Congressional leadership worked with longtime environmental champions and many new members to build on the progress of 2007, too many in Congress sided with the oil companies instead of standing up for the interests of their constituents. Time and again, they not only blocked progress but actually exacerbated our energy problems. Congress considered other environmental issues in 2008, including environmental funding and education, and protection of public lands, but energy was clearly the dominant issue of the year. The majority of the 11 Senate and 13 House votes in the 2008 Scorecard are energy votes that presented Congress with a real choice: chart a bold new course that puts Americans back to work, saves families money at the gas pump and on home heating bills, improves our national security, and protects the planet for future generations; or continue the disastrous energy policies of the last eight years that have benefitted only the oil industry. This Scorecard separates those members of Congress who are embracing a new energy future from those who are wedded to the past.
As is all too apparent, Newt Gingrich, President Bush, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and the Republican leadership in Congress launched a very effective campaign to mislead the American people into believing that new offshore drilling would lead to lower gas prices. That campaign ignored the fact that the United States has less than three percent of the world’s oil reserves but uses 25 percent, and that according to the Department of Energy, even negligible impacts on gas prices would not occur until 2030. Regardless, their well-funded campaign and relentless chants of “drill here, drill now, pay less” and “drill, baby, drill” built considerable momentum for allowing the long-standing moratorium on drilling off America’s treasured coasts to expire.
House leadership drafted a comprehensive, compromise energy bill to allow offshore drilling while maintaining protections for 50 to 100 miles offshore and combining it with a Renewable Electricity Standard, building efficiency standards, and clean energy tax credits. In perhaps the defining vote on whether members stood for a new energy future or stood with Big Oil, the Republican leadership offered an unsuccessful substitute to strip all of the clean energy policies. The comprehensive bill then passed the House, but after the White House signaled that it would veto a continuing budget resolution that maintained any coastal protections, even the partial extension of the moratorium was dropped.
In addition to pushing offshore drilling above all else, allies of Big Oil repeatedly rejected attempts to repeal billions of dollars of subsidies for oil companies and to instead shift that money to clean, renewable energy — in spite of the fact that oil companies are enjoying record profits while consumers suffer from high energy prices. And while the renewable energy industry is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal economy, most Senate Republicans and many conservative House Democrats spent almost all of 2008 disagreeing over whether and how to pay for vitally important clean energy tax credits set to expire at the end of this year. The delay in extending the tax credits jeopardized as many as 117,000 jobs and $19 billion in domestic clean energy investment. Congress finally extended these tax credits in early October, but they also included incentives for dirty fuels like liquid coal and oil shale.
Another place where the debate over our energy future came to a head was the global warming bill advanced by Environment & Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA). The Climate Security Act is a comprehensive bill to significantly reduce global warming pollution that LCV worked to strengthen and pass during the first half of 2008. Unfortunately, opponents of reducing global warming pollution immediately embarked upon several days of obstruction and delay when the bill came to the Senate floor, even insisting that the clerk read the entire 492 page substitute aloud. Ultimately, 48 senators voted to move forward, and six senators who were absent issued statementsindicating that they would have voted that way as well — bringing the total number of senators who supported taking action to address global warming to 54. While short of the 60 votes necessary to override a filibuster (a far too frequent outcome in 2008), it’s significant that a majority of senators went on the record in support of making progress in combating global warming. With just six more votes, the Senate could have continued consideration of this very important bill.
As we prepare for a new Congress and a new Administration, it’s all too obvious that America is desperate for change. The good news is that a new energy policy can bring about just the change we need. LCV is committed to working with the 111th Congress and the new Administration to take bold action. It’s time to dramatically increase our production of clean, renewable energy, cut our dependence on oil, and invest billions of dollars in a new energy economy.