Energy Compromise, Consensus, Reforms, Oh, Oh

By December 1, 2007Energy

News is that key Democratic members of Congress, negotiating among themselves and not as a conference committee, have worked out a “compromise” for an energy reform bill.

All we know at this point is what we read on the web (Detroit Free Press story) and heard on NPR this morning. The focus appears to be on the CAFE provisions, which Chairman John Dingell — an effective advocate for Michigan and the auto industry — has signed off on. The devil is definitely in the details, so we’ll see. Here’s the key passage from the AP story:

Dingell said the tougher standards are “both aggressive and attainable” and include provisions that give manufacturers the needed flexibility to bring SUVs and small trucks under compliance and to avoid job losses.

“We have achieved consensus on several provisions that provide critical environmental safeguards without jeopardizing American jobs,” said Dingell in a statement.

Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that the tougher CAFE requirements “will serve as the cornerstone” of the energy bill, which also is expected to require a sharp increase in ethanol use as a motor fuel and require nonpublic electric utilities to produce 15 percent of their power from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar energy.

The 15 percent renewable fuels portfolio has been a major point of objection for most business groups and utilities, and it should be for consumers. (NAM background.) In many regions, a 15 percent mandate cannot be achieved without buying much more expensive electricity from elsewhere in the country. The southeast, with less acess to wind and solar, really takes a hit.

But again, we don’t know what’s in the details. Maybe there’s something in the language that makes this goal attainable without sticking it to the consumers. (Inclusion of nuclear energy as qualifying electricity would help.)

Looks like the energy-discouraging tax increases have been taken out. (The New York Times story.) So that’s good, but perhaps those provisions will show up on other legislation.

Of couse, any energy bill that does nothing to encourage domestic energy production in oil and gas, coal and clean-coal, and nuclear energy is not a serious effort and is designed more for political boasting than really addressing supply and demand.

Politicians and the media always hold up compromise, consensus and reforms as laudable. But they’re matters of process, not substance, and not in and of themselves good things. A compromise between awful and really awful remains awful.

It appears the minority Republicans did not have a voice in the outcome, either. So, any talk of consensus is…strained.

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