Friday, June 09, 2006

Energy bill update in Congress: will the public be fooled into thinking these actions will lower gas prices?

The House of Representatives, on a largely partisan vote, has passed legislation supposedly aimed at speeding construction of new refineries. It is chiefly an attack on states' right.

In a related attack on states' rights, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) wants to take away the ability of states to adopt clean fuels.

But will these moves lower gas prices? Hardly. See excerpts of coverage, below, from the Dallas Morning News and the San Francisco Chronicle. (The efforts of Congress on these issues are apparently viewed as so unimportant that they barely earned a paragraph in The Washington Post.):

Energy efforts stall
House Republicans struggle to win support for gas price measures
Thursday, June 8, 2006
By SUDEEP REDDY / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – As drivers continue facing higher prices at the pump, House Republicans are pursuing a slew of measures meant to increase gasoline supplies and lower costs.

House Republicans succeeded in passing legislation Wednesday to speed up the permitting process for new refineries, but other measures have stalled.

They want to open up new sites for the industry to build refineries, ease environmental permitting requirements for new facilities and cut the number of fuel blends nationwide.
But five months before mid-term elections, they're getting little traction in their attempts to ease the pain for consumers. The oil industry has met the overtures with mild interest, and the Senate has been slow to respond with its own measures.

Critics assert that the Republican measures would do little to help consumers, arguing for higher fuel-economy requirements and a greater focus on alternative energy sources.... Many companies have said they've shown little interest in building new refineries because the market has been too volatile over the last two decades, not necessarily because of permitting rules.

Because many permitting and fuel-specification requirements were created to comply with clean-air requirements, environmental groups say that proposed changes – such as a reduction in fuel blends – could short-circuit efforts in areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth that are already struggling to cut their air pollution
Local and state officials "are really wrestling with this stuff on a day-to-day level," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an advocacy group.
"What's really going on is an attempt to fool the public into thinking Congress is doing something to lower gas prices," he said.

House OKs bill to speed permits for new refineries Foes say measure guts environmental rules
Edward Epstein and Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Thursday, June 8, 2006

Washington -- The House passed legislation Wednesday aimed at streamlining permits for new refineries, a step Republican leaders stung by public anger over high gas prices said could expand energy supplies and eventually cut prices.

The Republicans, fighting to keep control of the House in November's elections, used the debate to attack minority Democrats who they say have been obstructionists, opposing any step that would increase gas supplies. The Democrats countered that Republicans are doing the oil companies' work by trying to gut environmental state regulations by requiring state authorities to submit to a new federal coordinator who would set a timetable for granting environmental permits for new or expanded refineries.

Also on Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman heard testimony on Barton's bill to limit the number of fuel blends that state and local air quality officials require in order to meet federal air quality standards.

But industry officials testifying before his committee said limiting the number of boutique fuels would not lower the high prices consumers are paying at the pump this summer, saying the real culprits were high demand worldwide and volatility in global energy markets.

President Bush urged Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson in April to "confront the large problem of too many localized fuel blends." But an EPA report last month found the cost to refiners to produce cleaner-burning blends was about 0.3 to 3 cents per gallon.
"Cleaner-burning fuels are a very cost-effective way to clean up the air," said Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch. "It's something the average consumer doesn't even notice. If they take that right away, then state governments that are wrestling with air pollution problems might have to crack down on other kinds of consumer products or smokestack industries in ways that might not be as cost-effective."

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