Senate Rejects Plan to Require More Use of Renewable Energy

Measure to require 20% renewable portfolio rejected 70 to 29 day after vote to let NHTSA decide fuel efficiency standards.

Published: 15-Mar-2002

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Thursday rejected a measure to require that 20% of the nation's electricity be produced from renewable sources such as solar and wind power by 2020, dealing environmentalists their latest defeat on energy policy.

The action came a day after the Senate, as it debates legislation focusing on a variety of energy issues, refused to set tougher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, SUVs and other vehicles.

The measure on renewable energy sources, sponsored by Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), was soundly defeated, 70 to 29. Currently, less than 2% of the nation's electricity is generated from such sources. The bulk of electricity is produced from coal, nuclear power and natural gas.

Opponents of the Jeffords' proposal, including the utility industry, warned that the 20% standard could not be achieved without causing dramatic electricity price increases.

Environmentalists said they are still hopeful that senators in coming days will approve a less ambitious measure requiring that 10% of electricity be produced from renewable sources by 2020, which is now a part of the proposed comprehensive energy bill.

League of Conservation Voters spokesman Scott Stoermer said that, for environmentalists, the proposal is the "only meaningful part of the bill that's left."

Senate Democrats have patterned the 10% measure after a law in Texas, signed by President Bush when he was governor, in hopes of attracting GOP support.

Efforts to produce the first comprehensive energy bill in a decade--one of Bush's domestic priorities--continue at a sluggish pace. A threatened filibuster by Democrats over Bush's proposal to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling means that a final Senate vote on the energy bill may not occur until April. That provision has already been included in the House-passed energy bill.

Whether any legislation ultimately will be sent to Bush remains uncertain. The GOP-controlled House approved an energy bill in August. But the Democratic-run Senate is considering a far different measure, one that will be difficult to reconcile with the House version.

In Thursday's debate, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) argued that the effort to significantly increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources would result in a "huge transfer of wealth" from states "that aren't blessed with a lot of wind and sun" to those that are.

He accused lawmakers of "picking and choosing between politically correct fuels and those that aren't politically correct."

A coalition of groups, including the Edison Electric Institute, National Mining Assn. and Nuclear Energy Institute, warned in a letter to senators, "Simply imposing an unreasonably large, federally mandated requirement to generate electricity from renewables will not guarantee that enough windmills and other renewable facilities can be built on schedule [or] that the wind will cooperate."

Proponents of the measure argued it would diversify the nation's energy mix while reducing emissions, including those blamed for global warming.

"It is unconscionable to continue to shackle ourselves to fuels that dirty our air and water and compromise our national security," Jeffords said.

Currently, 14 states require that a percentage of their electricity comes from renewable sources. In California, legislation has been introduced to increase renewable energy sources from the roughly 10% of electricity today to 20% by 2010.

California's Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein supported the Jeffords measure.

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