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What is the House doing on CAFE?

By Joe Romm

"What is the House doing on CAFE?"

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So far, successfully fending off GOP efforts to promote something lame.

E&ENews PM (subs. req’d) has a long story on the effort by House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) to push a weak CAFE amendment to House energy legislation. The story of what Barton tried to do, and what the Democrats plan to do on both CAFE and energy, is rather involved, so I’ll just repost the whole story below the fold:

ENERGY POLICY: Barton loses bid to establish House position on CAFE

Alex Kaplun, E&ENews PM reporter

Republicans this afternoon failed in their gambit to force the House Energy and Commerce Committee to take a position on corporate average fuel economy.

As questions about the fate of the CAFE proposal continued to hang over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) plan to move energy legislation in the next few weeks, the committee voted down in a party-line 26-31 vote an amendment offered by ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas). Barton’s provision sought to create a new renewable fuel economy standard that would raise vehicle efficiency for automobiles to 35 miles per gallon by 2022 and for light trucks to 27.5 miles per gallon by the same date.

Though the amendment technically targeted only so-called renewable fuel vehicles, the proposal would actually have applied to all vehicles because virtually every car on the road can run on fuel blends that contain a small amount of ethanol. Republican leaders admitted they crafted the amendment in such a manner to make it germane to the committee legislation and viewed it as essentially their response to the Senate CAFE legislation.

“My motive in offering this amendment is because the Senate has acted,” Barton said. “You have to have something to beat something. You don’t beat something with nothing.

“The House needs to have a position,” he added, in clear reference to a future House-Senate conference committee on energy.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) said he still believed the amendment was nongermane, but he allowed the debate and the vote on the issue to go forward. Dingell did not support the amendment despite his likely philosophical agreement with its intent.

“Even though I would probably favor something very much like this, I can’t favor it at this particular time,” Dingell said.

Barton said his effort to push the panel to adopt CAFE legislation was prompted in large part by comments earlier in the day from Pelosi indicating CAFE may resurface on the floor.

“We can sit on our hands in this committee and do nothing and have nothing to go to the floor and have nothing to go to conference with,” Barton said. “This committee should have a voice in whatever the debate is on the House floor later this summer and in conference with the Senate.”

Pelosi told reporters earlier in the day that she supports the Senate position on CAFE, which would mandate an increase of 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks. She was more evasive on whether she would support allowing a CAFE vote to come to the floor as part of the energy legislation.

“The full committee will work its will, and so will the Congress, and it will do so in the fullest and most open way,” Pelosi said when asked about whether the full House will take up CAFE this summer.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also refused to say whether he would offer his CAFE proposal on the floor. In the meantime, Markey and other liberal Democrats found themselves arguing against a CAFE boost — at least in the manner sought by the Barton proposal — arguing that the plan was poorly timed and Democrats had been given no notice that such a plan would be offered.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers endorsed the Barton proposal — a move that also drew the ire of some committee Democrats.

“To present something like this just before this markup is over, I think doesn’t set a high standard, I think it sets a low one,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). “Is it meant to embarrass the chairman of the full committee? I think [he is] the best advocate that the automobile industry has ever had in the history of the Congress.”

Pelosi outlines summer energy plan

The CAFE debate came shortly after Pelosi and Democratic leaders outlined what legislation will make the cut into their summer energy package, with 11 different committees slated to feed their contributions into the broader legislation.

The centerpiece of the legislation will be the six-part package the Energy and Commerce Committee finished marking up this afternoon, dealing with energy efficiency, alternative fuel infrastructure and development of a smart grid.

Other committees’ summer energy package components include:

  • Ways and Means — A $16 billion tax bill paid for primarily by repealing incentives for oil and gas companies. It directs that money toward tax breaks for alternative energy sources such as solar, biomass, wind and several others.
  • Agriculture — A $3.5 billion bill that would increase research and development projects for cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels as well as expand loan guarantees for biofuel refineries.
  • Foreign Affairs — A bill stating the United States should re-engage in efforts to reach a global agreement in climate change.
  • Natural Resources — A bill that repeals several royalties and other incentives given to oil companies in the 2005 energy bill.
  • Education and Labor — A bill creating an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Worker Training Program to train a workforce for “green” jobs.
  • Small Business — A bill to provide loans and technical assistance to small businesses to adopt energy efficient technology.
  • Oversight and Government Reform — A bill requiring the federal government to become carbon neutral by 2050 and direct federal agencies to freeze their emissions by 2010 and reduce them every year thereafter.
  • Science and Technology — Seven separate bills that would create federal research projects in areas such as revolutionary energy technology, carbon sequestration, biofuels and solar.
  • Transportation and Infrastructure — A bill that attempts to cut carbon emissions by increasing investment in mass transit and directs greater use of energy efficient and energy technologies in federal buildings.

Democratic leaders also lumped several appropriations bills into their energy agenda, though those will be considered separately from the rest of the energy items.

Despite the announcement from party leaders, both the timing and the exact form of the legislation remain unclear. House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the bills may not necessarily be considered as one comprehensive bill, citing in particular the tax package as an item that may be moved separately from the rest of the bill. Hoyer also said party leaders will try to find floor time for the energy legislation in July.

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