The energy policy bill, which would provide incentives to boost ethanol production substantially in coming years, had been stalled in the Senate since early December for lack of enough votes (60) to bring cloture to a sometimes raucous debate on its provisions.
Following its introduction, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., submitted a colloquy into the Congressional Record that outlines agreement, which was reached in a meeting Thursday.
“I worked closely with leadership to make sure this energy bill addresses our energy challenges, achieves the same goals the old bill did and creates as many new jobs,” said Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It does.
“We cut costly provisions, we didn’t cut jobs,” he added. “I was particularly concerned about protecting the new jobs created in the near-term. We’ve done that. The tax incentives for renewable energy, coupled with the ethanol, clean coal and natural gas provisions create every single job the old energy bill would have created. They create them as swiftly as the old bill would have done.”
The estimated cost of the new Domenici bill, S-2095, is less than $14 billion, taking into account a $1.245 billion savings in the authorizing portion of the package. The new bill costs less than half of the estimated $31 billion cost of the old bill that passed the House in November.
The leaner energy bill includes the tax package passed by the Senate Finance Committee last May. The estimated cost of the tax package is reduced to below $15 billion by delaying the implementation of most provisions until later this year.
“We shaved off half the cost and still pump more than 800,000 new jobs into our economy,” said the New Mexico Republican. “The ethanol provision alone will do more to bring new life to rural America than anything that has passed through Congress in the last two decades.”
The bill was introduced under Rule 14, which meant it will be immediately placed on the Senate calendar where it can be brought to the Senate floor for consideration at any time without the need to go through the committee process. However, a Rule 14 process is a two-day process, so this will not be completed until the Senate returns from the President’s Day recess later this month.
“I commend Majority Leader Frist and Minority Leader Daschle for their work to pave the way for a swift Senate vote on this bill,” Domenici said. “I think this bill addresses the concerns several senators had with last fall’s conference report. I agree with the leaders that we want to move quickly to a vote on this bill with a minimum number of amendments. I look forward to floor consideration shortly after we return from the recess.”
National Corn Growers Association leaders applauded the action by Domenici and the Senate leaders, saying the future of renewable fuels had brightened significantly.
“We’re finally seeing the light at the end of a very long tunnel on RFS,” said Dee Vaughan, the NCGA president and a corn grower from Dumas, Texas. “But we’re not there yet – floor amendments are always a possibility. We urge the Senate to vote the bill through as soon as possible.”
He noted that besides being a new, slimmed-down energy bill, the legislation still contains a 5-billion-gallon Renewable Fuel Standard and a Small Producer Tax Credit along with the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC).
Vaughan also commended the Senate for passing the highway reauthorization bill, which includes VEETC. The tax credit will generate more than $2 billion per year in additional Highway Trust Fund revenues and maintain an important incentive for the use of renewable fuels. VEETC allows greater refinery flexibility in blending ethanol and eliminates criticism that ethanol robs the Highway Trust Fund.
“Through letter-writing campaigns, visits to Washington, D.C., and other grassroots efforts, corn growers have lobbied tirelessly for the inclusion of RFS and VEETC in energy legislation,” said Vaughan. “It appears as if that work is finally paying off.
“This has been a three-year effort and it hasn’t been easy, but we got our message across. It’s gratifying to know our lawmakers believe in a Renewable Fuels Standard,” Vaughan said.
The RFS provides for expansion of the ethanol industry by requiring 5 billion gallons of renewable content in motor fuels by 2012. Aside from providing a vehicle for rural development and economic growth, “this is an important move to enhance our nation’s energy security.”
Besides slashing the bill’s price from $31 billion to $14 billion, Domenici removed several other provisions from the bill, including the MTBE safe harbor provisions that had proved to be a major stumbling block for Democratic senators.
There was no immediate word on whether House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Energy Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, D-La., would agree to the changes. DeLay defied the White House when it sought to remove the MTBE product liability exemption provision so that the legislation could pass the Senate in December.