Power Play

Energy bill would keep Uncle Sam over a barrel

by Senator Barbara Boxer


wo years after California's catastrophic energy crisis, the entire nation faces a long-term crisis over energy policy. Nearly 30 years after President Gerald Ford vowed to “never again permit any foreign nation to have Uncle Sam over a barrel of oil,” we are more dependent than ever on undependable sources of petroleum.

    If the United States fails to develop sustainable, environmentally sensitive sources of energy over the next decade, we face another century of sharply increasing prices, pollution, shortages and energy dependence. But instead of addressing this crisis, Congress is about to pass an energy bill that encourages pollution, market manipulation and continued reliance on unreliable sources of energy.

    Of the 1,300 bills introduced in the US Senate this year, few are as bad as the Energy Policy Act, which utterly fails to ensure America's energy future. How bad is this bill? Let me count the ways:

Bad for the environment


    The energy bill opens the door to new offshore oil drilling along the California coast. For two decades, federal waters off California and other coastal states have been protected from additional offshore oil and gas development through a series of temporary bans. The Energy Policy Act would preempt the moratorium and require the Interior Department to undertake an inventory of oil and gas resources of the entire Outer Continental Shelf. Industry would be allowed to use seismic testing and other destructive technologies to survey potential resources.

    While promoting oil drilling, the bill fails to increase fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles – which would conserve far more oil than coastal drilling could ever produce – and fails to include a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would require utilities to purchase more than the current 2 percent of their energy supplies from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

    By failing to increase fuel-economy standards, the bill will keep America dependent on fossil fuels from the Middle East and other dangerous parts of the world for decades to come.

    The bill would also subsidize the nuclear power industry in two ways: by providing $30 billion in federal loan guarantees to finance new plants and by allowing the industry to get away without paying the costs of a serious accident.

Bad for Consumers


    The Energy Policy Act repeals the Public Utility Holding Company Act – a law that protects electricity consumers – and fails to provide any real consumer protections in its place. The repeal allows power companies to set up multiple subsidiaries and blur their financial reports, opening the door to market manipulation like that seen in the California electricity crisis. The bill does nothing to bring justice to California's energy consumers, who are owed at least $8.9 billion by power companies and energy traders that conspired to manipulate our markets and drive up prices. On the contrary, the bill further opens the door to energy deregulation byÊcreating regional electricity markets, which would subject the rest of the country to the same spiraling prices and market manipulation that California has endured.

Bad for Taxpayers


    In imposing a federal mandate to include ethanol in motor vehicle fuels, the bill would immunize ethanol producers from all product-liability design defect claims. My amendment to remove this immunity was defeated earlier this month. So if ethanol leaks into our water supplies, state and local governments (i.e., taxpayers) will be stuck with the bills for cleaning up this pollution. Ethanol should be subject to ordinary liability standards, just as any other fuel additive. We should not shift the burden of cleaning up problems caused by ethanol to our communities and taxpayers.

Bad for Homeland Security

    Although the bill provides loan guarantees and insurance breaks for nuclear power plants, it does not require these plants to have increased protections against terrorist attacks. It promotes a dangerous energy source while leaving Americans vulnerable to terrorists.

    My colleagues and I are trying to revise some of the worst provisions of this dreadful bill. In completing work on the Energy Policy Act, we can guarantee America's energy future by protecting consumers and the environment, holding polluters accountable for product defects, protecting energy plants and sources against terrorist attacks and promoting conservation and renewable energy.

    To make this bad bill better, we must:

  • Provide refunds to California consumers who were ripped off by power companies;
  • Add consumer protections to prevent future market manipulation, and halt the mindless march to electricity deregulation;
  • Affirm the moratorium on dangerous oil drilling on the California coast and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and
  • Decrease America's dependence on foreign oil by providing incentives for alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind, while increasing fuel economy for automobiles.

    Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committe.