Washington faces up to a long, hard wintergreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Washington faces up to a long, hard winter
By Nancy Dunne
Published: September 26 2000 21:21GMT | Last Updated: September 26 2000 21:24GMT
When President Bill Clinton announced the release of oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve last week, he did so under legislation that had expired six months ago.
Congress has yet to re-authorise the legislation governing the operations of the oil reserve or to approve a proposed heating oil reserve for the north-east.
After six years of divided government, analysts say, the US has no functioning energy policy. In fact, energy issues have had such a low visibility that for five years, Republican House members have sought to abolish the energy department.
Concern about rising energy prices has shaken Washington's complacency, but not enough to end partisan bickering about what to do. In hearing after hearing, Republicans still are accusing the administration of not having an energy policy, and Democrats are blaming the Republicans for underfunding Mr Clinton's conservation and alternative energy initiatives.
"We are entering the 21st century with an antiquated electric utility infrastructure," said Congressman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. "Gas lines in the 1970s showed us the dangers of excessive reliance on oil. But a combination of factors - lower energy prices, anti- regulation sentiment in the administration in the 1980s and the Congress in the 1990s and a growing economy have conspired to halt our progress towards alternative fuels, renewable energy and energy independence."
As a result of both energy improvements and changes in the structure of the economy, the US is less dependent on oil than it used to be. While the size of the economy has more than doubled since 1973, energy consumption has increased only 25 per cent.
However, with the deregulation of natural gas and electric power in several states, the setting of energy policy is increasingly difficult. The number of players involved has grown along with the diversity of their interests. The oil companies hire countless lobbyists to preserve the status quo, said Mr Waxman.
"The oil industry is the 800lb gorilla; it holds all the cards because it produces the oil," said Dan Guttman, a long-time energy lawyer. "The utilities are like herds of elephants, all with different perspectives depending on where they are with deregulation. Then there are the new market entrants brought in by deregulation. They all have their own interests."
And then there is the winter: unless temperatures are above normal, prices of natural gas (which heats 55 per cent of all homes), fuel oil and diesel oil will rise, analysts say.
Natural gas prices have already tripled since March 1999. Electricity rates are soaring in states that have deregulated their electric power sectors. Inventories of home heating oil are 65 per cent below last year's levels in New England, and heating oil distributors are saying that prices are so high they cannot afford to fill their storage tanks without government incentives.
Republicans want to end environmental restrictions on off-shore drilling and to be allowed to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. "It's no secret that the administration has ignored and shunned coal and nuclear power," said Congressman Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican, last week. "They've threatened to tear down hydroelectric dams, which are one of the cleanest sources of energy. What's to compensate for increased electricity demand and the gradual loss of generating capacity from nuclear and hydropower?"
Dan Burton, chairman of the House government operations committee, said no refineries had been built in the country in 25 years because the requirements of the Clean Air Act made it uneconomical. "Under the reformulated gasoline provisions of the Clean Air Act, refineries have to make as many as 15 different blends of gasoline in the summertime, so we have fewer refineries with much more demand."
Called to account last week before Mr Burton's committee, Bill Richardson, the US energy secretary, put the blame for fuel costs on soaring demand in the US, Asia and Europe. He called for "diversity of energy sources with broad investment in alternatives fuels and energy sources".
He urged passage of a $4bn package of tax incentives to encourage oil and gas production and a $1.4bn programme for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and power systems.
Adoption of federal electricity restructuring legislation would resolve the problems of many of the price rises endured by users in California, the Pacific North West and New York, he said. "It would establish a federal rules of the road, where generating companies have the certainty they need on whether to invest in new power plants and transmission facilities."
But his proposals are falling upon deaf ears in a Congress focused on getting out of town before elections. It could be a long hard winter.
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), September 27, 2000
Why is it that all the best stories about what's going on in the U.S. come out of England?
This is another good one.
-- Uncle Fred (email@example.com), September 27, 2000.
I understand President Clinton has not sent any proposed energy legislation up to Congress in the whole two terms he has been in office. Is that correct? If this be the case, no wonder we are caught short in this current fuel crunch.
-- LillyLP (lillyLP@al.com), September 27, 2000.
That's right. The Clinton Administration has been indifferent to energy policy during its entire eight year being. The closest thing I can see to an Energy Policy was to send Richardson to various OPEC members, one at a time, on bended knee, begging for more oil production early this year. Then the 30-million barrel release from the SPR.
That's it. That's a Policy?
-- Wellesley (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 27, 2000.
Did I read this correctly? U.S. refineries are required to make fifteen different blends of gasoline during the summer? No wonder the refineries are becomming a choke-point in energy production. That's unconscionable.
-- Loner (email@example.com), September 27, 2000.
i find a little left-ward bias to this piece. Blame seems to be focussed mostly on the Republican Congress, when it should be clear for everyone to see that it's the president's job to lead, and, at the very least, develop and send Congress an Energy Policy to consider. Certainly, one man has much more power, authority and coordination ability to develop an Energy Policy, than a disparate, cumbersome 535-member body of legislators.
-- Chance (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 27, 2000.